Beijing Olympian Sarah Clark, a three-time European medallist, finished in fifth-place on the opening day of the 2012 European Championships in Chelyabinsk, Russia.
The action on day one came from the -48kg, 52kg, -57kg, -60kg and -66kg categories as eight British judoka competed in the final Olympic qualification event.
In the -48kg category, Hayley Willis, 16, become the youngest ever Briton to fight at the European Championships and received a bye in the opening round.
Her first ever contest on the elite senior stage came against Portugal’s Ana Hormigo, the 2008 European bronze medallist.
Hayley produced a herculean effort against her standout opponent who was 15 years her senior and showed a maturity beyond her tender eyes as two waza-ari scores sealed Hormigo’s passage into the quarter-final.
In the same category Kimberley Renicks’s hopes were ended by Russian Liudmila Bogdanova, the two-time u23 European champion.
In the -52kg competition Sophie Cox, the 2011 European bronze medallist, narrowly losing out by a yuko to the 2011 European silver medallist Joana Ramos.
In the -57kg category Sarah Clark showcased her European pedigree – having won the competition in 2006 and claimed a silver and bronze medal since – confidently dispatching Serbian Jovana Rogic, a six-time national champion in her opening bout by ippon.
2011 European champion Sabrina Filzmoser of Austria was next in line and South Shields judoka Clark produced another win by ippon to impose herself in the category.
In the quarter-final reigning u20 and u23 European champion Tugba Zehir of Turkey suffered a knee injury and had to forfeit the contest which saw Clark advance to face Greek judoka Ioulietta Boukouvala, the 2010 world bronze medallist, in the semi-final.
Despite registering three yuko scores Britain’s -57kg hope lost out by a waza-ari to enter the repechage to fight for the bronze medal.
Miryam Roper sealed the final place on the -57kg medal rostrum by ippon as Clark finished a credible fifth-place.
Sarah Clark said: “Pleased with my overall performance today but not the result. Beating the 2011 European Champion second contest and narrowly losing the semi final to the 2010 World bronze medallist shows that I am regaining my previous form after having had shoulder surgery in September last year. The performance here today was more important than the result although a medal would have been good. However, the focus is London 2012 and I feel that I am on the right path and improving.”
In the same category Connie Ramsey produced a spirited effort against 2010 European champion Corina Oana Caprioru of Romania. Ramsey, who pushed the pace and threatened throughout the contest, fell behind to a deciding waza-ari score with 20 seconds left in the bout.
In the -60kg field Ashley McKenzie suffered a first round exit against Turkey’s Iskender Ozkanoglu while James Millar was conquered by the 2011 European bronze medallist Elio Verde.
In the -66kg category the 2011 European bronze medallist Colin Oates bested Finland’s Niko Tapio Niemela in the opening round by ippon.
The 2011 European champion Miklos Ungvari of Hungary ended Oates’ continental bid by two yuko scores.
Lead Olympic women’s coach Kate Howey said: “Sarah had a really good day with wins against Filzmoser as well as decorated Turkish and Serbian opposition.
“The semi-final was very close and Sarah was unlucky to lose throwing the Greek judoka three times but only registering yuko scores. All in all this was Sarah back to her best and this performance has so many positives to help her in the coming months.”
British Judo Performance Director Daniel Lascau said: “Sarah fought well, she fought confidently and attacked from the start and there’s positives to take from her performance.
“James Millar was surprised by his opponent who took a quick grip – James didn’t expect such a strong attack early on.
“It wasn’t Ashley’s day today, we have to help him on how to present his judo and this is something we’ll look to address at the British Open.
“Colin Oates had a huge fight in the opening round, it was very taxing and in the second round it was a very close contest.
“Hayley Willis had no fear at all, there’s a mix of young and old judoka in the -48kg category so she has a very good chance to go forward and have a long successful career.
“Kimberley lost early in her contest and we need to be scoring first, this is something we’ve been working on in randori. A contest can last seconds or minutes, this is judo and what we need to be ready for.
“Sophie Cox was disappointed with her performance, she only lost by a yuko, and will return to action at the British Open to produce a strong performance.
“Connie Ramsey received a shido at the half-way point but I’d prefer our judoka to go out and attack as she did and there was nothing between her and her opponent until the final 20 seconds.
“The first day was a good experience and we will build on this with six judoka fighting on Friday.”
On Friday the attention turns to the -63kg, -70kg, -73kg and -81kg categories as six Brtish judoka take to the tatami.
Faith Pitman and Cadets European Champion Katie-Jemima Yeats-Brown, 16, compete at -63kg while Danny Williams battles in the -73kg field.
Sally Conway and Gemma Gibbons see action at -70kg with Euan Burton fighting in the -81kg category.