First Women’s World Championships #5 – Catching Up with Loretta Doyle

At the tail end of 1980, in New York City, Madison Square Garden Indoor Arena, on November 29-30 a momentous event in the world of Judo took place: the first Women’s World Judo Championships.

There were seven fighters in the women’s Great Britain squad who competed in that inaugural event, and in the week leading up to the 40th Anniversary, British Judo will be posting an article written by Loretta Cusack-Doyle catching up with each member of the team, on the theme of “Where are they now?” interwoven with memories of the event from the ladies themselves from Loretta’s recent fun-filled chats with them.

Loretta Doyle

My series of articles sharing the details of my chats with my fellow GB team-mates from the first women’s World Championship 40 years ago has been huge fun. This time, I can’t chat with myself, so some of it will be self-analysis, and I’ll try to add in bits that I did not have time to incorporate into the article I wrote for the IJF a few weeks ago.

I was first on the mat for Team GB on the second day in this relatively new, for me, heavier-than-normal category of -56kg. Normally I fought at -52kg, but that spot was owned by Bridgette McCarthy, who was the British Champion at that weight. I was also British Champion at -56 Kg, but I had only moved to that weight from being British Champion at -52kg the previous year to avoid getting thumped by Bridgette. At the British Championships earlier that year in July I had just turned 17 and Bridgette was 20 and far more experienced.

Photo: Loretta next to Gerda Winklbauer of Germany on the podium to receive her Bronze Medal

Indeed, I felt truly fortunate to be in New York that week as part of the GB team, being the youngest by a fair margin. And I did not have the same level of international competitive track record under my belt as my teammates. Roy Inman took a huge gamble to include me in the Team: my international medals consisted at that time of only two significant results: I had got a Bronze at the Senior European Championships in March that year at -56kg, and I was Senior British Champion from July that year at -56kg. Yes, I had had other international medals in lesser competitions: Gold at the Dutch Open two months earlier, Silvers at the German Open, Barcelona and Austria in previous years, but it was my on-form performances in 1980 itself that saw me secure a place in the GB team.

My first round was against Yadthong Lamai of Thailand. I had never heard of her, no one seemed to know much about her, but it is fair to see that she left an indelible impression on me: during the bout she took a chunk out of my leg with her teeth! She bit me, and on inspection of the molar impression on my leg by the referee when I yelped in pain, and keikoku penalty was awarded against her. When this was added to the throw for Wazari that I had earlier scored with Harai-goshi, this gave me a compound win. In my competitive world, two things that drove me were the fear of failure, and the fear of the unknown. Having defeated this unknown opponent, it gave me enormous confidence going into the next round. However….

My next round was with the eventual winner of the World Gold: Gerda Winklbauer of Austria. She was REALLY hot stuff – 8 years older than me and the acknowledged Queen of Ne-Waza of the european judo scene. Five times the Austrian Champion, with two Silvers and a Bronze thrown in with the same domestic competition. She also had won 11 Golds, a Silver and three Bronze in major internationals over the previous five years. I had been at the receiving end of her strangleholds (with which she won 80% of her competitions) at the British Open – so my tactics were to stay on my feet, and attack (it wasn’t in my nature to defend) with a series of “hit and run” throw attempts, and avoid going to ground at all costs. I had no expectation of beating her, so it proved, but I came out of it with some element of my pride intact: I went the full time and she only beat me with a single point via Yuse-gachi, split refereeing decision.

I got my chance to do better later when Winklbauer demolished all the competitors put in her way, and I was able to fight Liesbeth Beeks of Holland in the repechage, which again went the full course, but I got a unanimous decision for Bronze. I felt superb. The GB team and Roy Inman had supported me loudly and there were tears all round (not from Roy, of course, but perhaps a sigh of relief that his trust in me had been rewarded and we had achieved our third medal).

Photo: Who can spot Brian Moore, National Cadet Coach and Lisa Allan, now IJF Competition Manager with Loretta on the extreme right. A trip to Florida for Cadets to take part in the British Olympic Association programme to inspire future Olympians

What does Loretta remember about the first women’s World Championships and its impact on her life and women’s judo?

At this stage of my chats with the girls I have asked them for their profound words of wisdom on the impact of this event on themselves and the world of judo. So, asking myself that, the fact is that for me, it truly was a transformational event.

On a personal level, I had recently turned 17, and had to date had an amazing run of good fortune with my judo career. From the age of 13 onwards I had been winning a lot on the European junior circuit. Immediately on turning age 16, I started to compete in senior competitions, and I was fortunate to be able to medal at every senior international event in which I fought. The medals were good to have but gathering valuable experience of fighting at this level was the aspect that benefitted me most.

My whole life and being existed around judo at that time – indeed, still does. It was my firm and determined plan to make my full-time career in judo – but – whoever I talked to about this, whether a knowledgeable old hand in the world of judo itself or teachers and career counsellors at school, they all dismissed the concept out of hand. I was never academically brilliant, indeed was challenged in that direction, but I excelled at sport (and judo). Whilst I loved the atmosphere and banter that accompanied my loud-voice job on a barrow in Islington Market selling dresses (or whatever my Del Boy suppliers flogged me), I really did not want this to be my future sole source of income.

I was not a political person and had no strong thoughts at that stage in my life about gender imbalances and the world of women’s rights. My desire to make my career in judo was a blend of being involved in the sport I loved, and the fact that it was not a huge financial risk. What I was earning as a girl/woman in unskilled work on the market did not need much of a step-up to earn more through judo. It was worth the risk to try. I was a very win-focussed individual in those days: so why not!

I am fortunate that more mature and worldly-wise people like Rusty Kanokogi, were on the case on my behalf. I will not repeat here what has been said in my other article for the IJF, but in summary, it would not have happened without her. She created acceptance of women’s judo as being the art form and skilled craft that it is, and that women had every right to compete on the same basis as men. With hindsight, we can now see that Rusty got women and our sport accepted in this way some ten years in advance of other sports. If we take women’s boxing as an example, this became an Olympic sport in London 2012 whereas women’s judo was a full Olympic sport at Barcelona 1992 and a demonstration Olympic sport at Seoul, Korea in 1988.

I was fortunate to have the wholehearted support of my family (and judo friends). It took longer than I would have liked to financially move myself away from Islington Market and start earning money working as a mechanic and general go-for in my Dad’s garage. The first time I can recall that I had a steady income from judo was shortly after I retired from competitive judo in 1992 when I became a National Coach looking after the women international cadets and juniors.

By the time of the 1986 Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh where I won Silver, I had moved to Edinburgh to live with my now ex-husband Billy Cusack, and I was earning my keep as a fitness instructor and judo coach at the Edinburgh Club. Subsequently, Billy and I formed the Cusack School of Judo where my side of the business was to expand our involvement in providing judo to Edinburgh private schools and this proved to be extraordinarily successful.

Photo: Loretta in 2019 at daughter Jade’s wedding and her son Scott

I was not alone as a woman in being able to make a living from judo, and many of the articles I have written this week recall similar experiences of my GB teammates when they retired from competitive judo and moved on to the next phase of their lives.

Without the 1980 first women’s World Championship opening the floodgates of the acceptance of women’s judo, none of this would have happened (or at least not as quickly as it has).

Where am I now and what am I doing?

When I won a Commonwealth Games Gold in 1990 in Auckland, New Zealand, I was aged 27 and never felt better in terms of my judo ability – but I had to be realistic and look towards retirement. My plan had been to retire after the forthcoming 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, which was the first time that women’s Judo was to be an official medal sport. I was still on form; indeed, it was in May 1992, in the year of the Olympics that I won my second senior European Championship Gold medal in Paris, with the Barcelona Olympics just months away. However, I was bitterly disappointed, indeed angry and frustrated that Roy Inman did not select me to be part of the Olympic Team, despite being European Champion. I was reserve in 3 different weight categories but by no means certain to be a competitor.

As it happened, it all worked out well in the end, and my disappointment at not being selected by Roy was compensated by the fact that when I went for the obligatory medical, gender and pregnancy exam, I was told that I was pregnant… which was news to me … and I was delighted.

Some 6 months later I gave birth to my beautiful daughter, Jade in 1993. Billy Cusack and I had our second child, Scott, in 1996. Both our children did judo, but only from their late teens onward. In the case of Jade, she lost enthusiasm and moved on to other interests. Scott was interested in both rugby and judo at a good level, and around age 18 he made the decision to concentrate on judo and retire from rugby. He is a member of Edinburgh Judo Club, coached by his father, and a member of the Judo Scotland National Development Squad, and very much focussed on the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham in 2022.

Photo: Loretta livestream commentating at the 2019 World Judo Championship in Tokyo with Neil Adams and Sheldon Franco-Rook

As usual, I am currently doing a Heinz 57 variety of things within the world of judo, some paid and some not paid. For the past 7 years I have been an elected (by the club membership) Director of the British Judo Association, which is unpaid. This is my last year – having served two x four year terms (the maximum) which is a pity because I think there is so much more that needs to be done in this role, but it is good to have new blood and so I will retire gracefully from this role in due course. It would be good to see me replaced by another woman. It is important for gender balance on the Board to be appropriate to represent the interests of woman and other social and ethnic groups.

In terms of irregular income, I am part of the IJF (and sometimes the EJU) livestreaming commentary team (with Sheldon Franco-Rooks and Neil Adams) on the internet providing “technical analysis” of the fights, live as they happen at Grand Slams, Grand Prix and World Championship events around the world.

In terms of regular income, like everyone else in judo this has been curtailed by the COVID19 crisis, but I am delighted that I have just been appointed as the Judo and Wrestling Competition Manager for the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham. It is a 20-month contract running from March 2021, and I am looking forward to getting my teeth into the role at the earliest opportunity to help make the Games the huge success they deserve to be.

Finally, I will finish with something dear to my heart. With the help of my partner Graeme and his son Fraser, we formed and launched last year the Loretta Doyle Judo Foundation in 2019. It is a Scottish Charity with a UK-wide presence that aims to enrich the lives of the disadvantage in society by introducing them to the benefits of judo, providing funds for BJA registered Clubs and coaches to provide free classes, suits, premises and equipment appropriate to their special needs, whatever that may be. COVID19 hit us hard only 3 months into our existence, but we continue to plan and prepare for our relaunch as soon as Government lockdown restrictions are eased enough to do so.