British Judo opens up 2015 with four medals at the African Open

British Judo started the year in fine form with four medals including a gold and two bronzes; three of them from Team Bath athletes,at the African Open in Tunisia, writes Donna Richardson.

Glasgow European Open silver medallist Ben Fletcher (-100kg) took a brilliant gold medal after winning all four fights in his pool. One by one, he took out his opposition; throwing Massamba M Baye of France and Elijah Schuurmans of Australia for ippon and upon reaching the semi-final he took victory over Clement of France by a yuko. In the final he put up a hard fight against Khaybula Magomedov of Russia, who grappled for supremacy; each picking up shido after shido. But Fletcher came back from the brink to snatch the final victory, scoring a waza-ari with minutes left the clock.

He was joined in his success by sister and fellow Pinewood judoka Megan Fletcher (-70kg) as she took bronze on the same day along with their Team Bath comrade Tom Reed (-81kg) who scooped another bronze medal.

2014 Commonwealth Champion Megan beat Samantha Bleir of the United States of America by a yuko in her first fight and repeated this pattern against Melissa Heleine of France. In the semi-final Megan lost out by an ippon against Anka Pogacnik of Slovenia but bounced back with an ippon win against Antonia Moreira of Angola.

Fellow Commonwealth medallist and 2013 Miami Grand Prix gold medallist Reed won his first contest against Dimitri Gomez Taveres of France by yuko and beat Ben Ammar of Tunisia by ippon. In the semi-final the Devizes judoka conceeded an ippon to Szabolcs Krizsan of Hungary but then bounced back by throwing Eoin Coughlan of Australia for a final ippon and the bronze medal.

The final bronze came from Nekoda Davis (-57kg) who is currently ranked at number 32 and set to break into the top 30 in her weight on the world ranking list.

Astana Grand Prix bronze medallist Davis, who trains at the British Judo Centre of Excellence, but hails from Ealing Judo Club, opened with a fantastic ippon against Andreja Leski of Slovenia but then narrowly lost by two shidos to Italian Maria Centracchio’s one.

In the repechage, the 21-year-old bounced back to beat Senegalese judoka Hortace Diedhiou by a single shido. This put her back in the frame for a medal as she grabbed the chance to score a waza-ari to claim the bronze against Jaione Equisoain of Spain.

Commenting on his own win and Team Bath’s success as a whole, Ben said: “It is really good to win gold to start the year off on such a high. I am really happy that everything went to plan on the day and even though I wasn’t feeling too well, I still managed to come back in the final. However, I am most proud of my sister and Team Bath mate Tom Reed too; for us all to medal for Team Bath and for British Judo as a team, collectively; along with Nekoda.”

Interim men’s coach Jean-Paul Bell said: “I am really pleased with their performances. This was a great start to the year. I was pleased to see Ben gain the gold and Tom win the bronze.”

Lead women’s coach Kate Howey, MBE, was delighted with Nekoda’s win especially as the medal sets the youngster closer to breaking the top 30. This year Nekoda’s sole focus is to climb the world ranking points and continue her pathway towards Olympic qualification by reaching the top 16.

Kate said: “This is a fantastic start. All the medals bring with the team qualification points for Rio and I am delighted with Nekoda’s medal.”

Elsewhere, Gemma Gibbons, returning from injury placed fifth while Kelly Edwards placed seventh.