There was a double bronze for British Judo on the first day (Saturday 10 February) of the 2018 Paris Grand Slam as Nekoda Smythe-Davis (-57kg) and Ashley McKenzie (-60kg) secured medal rostrum finishes.
The Paris Grand Slam is one of the most prestigious events on the judo calendar. So far only five British judoka have won the Paris tournament outright.
However, Smythe-Davis’s bronze was the 50th medal won by British judoka at this tournament. Both judoka will also gain 500 world rankings point off the back of this result.
Londoner Smythe-Davis enjoyed a strong 2017 including a bronze medal at the World Championships in Budapest.
She took on former European Championships silver medallist Ivelina Ilieva (BUL) in the first round. An early waza-ari score proved to be decisive as she held off the past finishing Bulgarian.
USA judoka Mariah Holguin was next up and the younger fighter made a strong start. The British judoka’s superior strength and experience started to tell though as Holguin conceded two shidos.
Smythe-Davis finished the contest not long after as she followed up a waza-ari score with an ippon throw to move into the quarter-finals.
Junior World bronze medallist Jisu Kim (KOR) had already impressed by beating World No.6 Nora Gjakova in the previous round. She proved this wasn’t a fluke as she pressured Smythe-Davis from the start.
The British judoka kept her cool though and took the lead by waza-ari. Despite conceding two shidos Smythe-Davis was able to hold off Kim, who would go onto win bronze herself via the repechage.
World No.2 and World silver medallist Tsukasa Yoshida (JPN) stood in Smythe-Davis’s way in the semi-finals. The Japanese judoka had won their only contest to date but the British judoka made it tough for opponent.
The fight looked to be going into golden score but Yoshida spotted an opportunity and threw Smythe-Davis for ippon.
Smythe-Davis’s bronze medal contest with Timna Nelson Levy (ISR) was a very tactical affair with neither judoka able to really take control.
In the end it was the British judoka’s superior gripping and tactics that won out in the end as she forced Nelson Levy to pick up three shidos.
Speaking afterwards Smythe-Davis said:
“I’m just obviously really happy. This is one of the medals I want to end my career with so for me to get it today was just perfect.”
Camberley judoka McKenzie went in as one the top seeds at -60kg and was made to work hard in his opening fight of the day against Pavel Petrikov (CZE).
McKenzie had beaten the Czech judoka twice however their last contest had come in 2011. Today’s contest swung back and forth with both judoka having periods of dominance.
The fight went to golden score with both judoka having picked up a shido. Golden score followed a similar pattern to normal time as both men picked up shidos off the back of good attacking from their opponent.
It was McKenzie’s superior fitness that told in the end as he ramped up the attack rate and forced Petrikov to concede a third shido for passivity.
His quarter-final against former World bronze medallist Toru Shishime (JPN) would also be decided by shidos as both judoka struggled to get into the flow of the contest. Both fighters picked up two shidos for failing to grip with plenty of time left in the contest.
The fight would finish in controversial circumstances with McKenzie picking up a third shido for a false attack though the Japanese judoka had escaped without a shido for a poor attack in the previous exchange.
This dropped McKenzie into the repechage final where he proved too good for home judoka Richard Vergnes (FRA). The French fighter made a strong start but McKenzie soon took control to go ahead by waza-ari.
The British judoka continued to control proceedings before finishing the contest with a second waza-ari score.
Brazil’s Phelipe Pelim held a 2-0 winning record over the British judoka going into the bronze medal contest with a couple of close wins in 2017.
McKenzie made short work of his bronze medal match as he threw Pelim for ippon with a dynamite tai-otishi in the opening 30 seconds.
Speaking afterwards McKenzie was delighted to have medalled in front of his daughter:
“My little girl who is six months born has come to watch me. She’s obviously gone through all the noise today but to come away with a bronze medal in front of her and my missus, Automne Pavia, is just a dream come true.”
There was also a fifth place for -63kg judoka Lucy Renshall. The St Helens fighter finished fifth in Paris last year and had to grind out some tough wins to be in with a shout of the medals.
A late waza-ari against Kiyomi Watanabe (PHI) in the first round gained her some measure of revenge for losing the bronze medal fight to the same opponent in Paris last year.
She then went to golden score against Hannah Martin (USA) in the second round. A waza-ari score in the first exchange of golden score secured Renshall a quarter-final spot.
There she took on Olympic champion Tina Trstenjak (SLO) and gave her illustrious opponent a very tough contest.
Neither judoka could get a score in regular time and Renshall pressured Trstenjak into conceding two shidos in golden score.
The Slovenian was fortunate not to concede a third after some weak attacks and she eventually won with a waza-ari after four minutes and 25 second into golden score.
Another golden score contest followed in the repechage final against Mongolia’s World bronze medallist Mungunchimeg Baldorj.
Renshall eventually got the win as she produced some nice ashi-waza to throw Baldorj for waza-ari.
Former European champion Martyna Trajdos (GER) was her opponent for bronze and the German judoka showed her experience in a very cagey contest.
Both judoka conceded two shidos in regular time with Trajdos awkward style proving difficult to for Renshall to manage.
Eventually the weight of attacks by Trajdos told and Renshall conceded a third shido in golden score to finish just outside the medals in Paris again.
Sunday 11 February will see five British judoka on the mat in Sally Conway (-70kg), Jemima Yeats-Brown (-70kg), Natalie Powell (-78kg), Sarah Adlington (+78kg) and Phil Awiti-Alacaraz (-100kg).
Competition starts at 0900 UK time with live coverage via live.ijf.org and @BritishJudo on Twitter.