Gemma Howell is European Champion

Prior to the Sofia European Championships Britain’s last judo European Champion was Sarah Clark back in 2006.

Following the gold medal success on day one, Gemma Howell ensured that British Judo fans would not have to wait another 16 years for the next European title. In fact, we had to wait less than 24hrs between the gold medal of Chelsie Giles won on the opening day!

Howell made it through a potentially tricky opening round contest against Barbara Timo (POR). Howell went to ground, got the arm lock, and forced her opponent to tap out.

The current World Championship silver medallist, Andreja Leski (SLO) was next for Howell. As the contest entered its final minute, Howell registered a waza-ari score which was enough to see her progress to the Quarter-Finals.

In the Quarter-Final contest, Howell registered a waza-ari score against Geke Van Den Berg (NED) and quickly transitioned into her favoured newaza, applying an armlock which forced her opponent to tap out.

European U23 Champion Szofi Ozbas (HUN) stood between Howell and the Final.

Howell picked up a shido early in the contest before the scorecard was levelled. Howell picked up a second shido before the contest entered Golden Score and the scorecard was evened up again. As the fight neared the 6-minute mark, Howell capitalised on an Ozbas error to register a waza-ari score and book her place in her first major championship final.

Howell flew out the block and registered a waza-ari score in the opening 30-seconds of the Final against Laura Fazliu (KOS). Howell continued to dominate and with 90seconds remaining, registered a second waza-ari score to win her first major title at the age of 31.

 

Speaking after her final Howell said:This is the best feeling in the world. To win my European bronze was incredible, so I think I am still in shock!”

Howell has famously battled back from multiple injuries to be where she is today: “The injuries make today even more special. There have been numerous occasions when I have thought ‘is it worth this’, but it’s moments like today that make all the surgeries and months of rehab worth it.”

Having recently stepped down to the -63kg category post Tokyo, Howell entered the competition in an unseeded position, facing two world medallists in her opening two contests: “I always knew it was a tough draw and I was in for a hard day, but I just took it one fight at a time, just like any other competition.

“I went into each contest with a game plan and I am so happy that all the hard work has paid off.

“My mum and auntie have travelled out to watch me compete, and it was so lovely to see them in the crowd at the end of each fight smiling.”

Kelly Petersen-Pollard safely booked her place in Round 2 after dominating on the ground to pin her opponent Yuliia Kurchenko for 20-seconds.

Petersen-Pollard overcame an 8-minute R2 battle against Martina Esposito (ITA) to book her place in the Quarterfinals.

Petersen-Pollard dominated the contest, forcing her opponent to pick up three shidos.

In the Quarter-Final, Petersen-Pollard dominated the early stages and forced her opponent, Michela Polleres (AUT), to pick up two shidos. When the contest neared the 5th minute of Golden Score, Polleres registered a waza-ari score, meaning Petersen-Pollard progressed to the Repechage.

Hoping to book her place in the bronze medal contest, Petersen-Pollard went a shido down early in the Repechage contest against the experienced Anka Pogacnik (SLO). A waza-ari score against the young brit followed. Chasing the contest Petersen-Pollard attacked, but was unable to find a way through Pogacnik’s defence, meaning she had to settle for 7th place.

After and opening round bye, Lachlan Moorhead progressed from his Round 2 contest after his opponent Edi Sherifovski (MKD) was awarded hansoku make for a head dive.

With 60-seconds of the Round 3 contest remaining, and with Moorhead two shidos down, Attila Ungvari (HUN) registered a waza-ari score. Chasing the contest, Moorhead then picked up a third shido.

Lucy Renshall had the longest wait of all GB Judo fighters to start her European quest. The world number two entered the competition as the number one seed and following an opening round bye, faced Laura Fazliu (KOS).

Renshall dominated the contest and was unfortunate to find herself two shidos down early on. Renshall fought back to even the score as the contest entered its 8th minute, Fazliu registered an ippon score.

Stuart McWatt unfortunately drew the World Champion Matthias Casse (BEL) in Round 2 following an opening round bye. McWatt took the World Champion all the way to Golden Score, but unfortunately picked up a third shido.

Jemima Yeats-Brown suffered an early exit to Ida Eriksson (SWE) in the -70kg competition.

After an opening round bye, Dan Powell was defeated in his R2 contest against Salvador Cases-Roca (ESP). Powell went to ground but was pinned by his opponent for ippon score.

Before the day two action started on the mat, Kerry Tansey was presented the Social Inclusion Award for 2021 in recognition for her ground-breaking work with adaptive and inclusion judo throughout Europe.