Gemma Howell makes her first Grand Slam Final

Gemma Howell achieved her best performance at an IJF Grand Slam event as she won silver on day two of the Tel Aviv Grand Slam, whilst Kelly Petersen-Pollard continues her impressive rise up the senior ranks winning bronze.

Howell, a three-time Grand Slam bronze medallist, recently stepped back down to the -63kg weight category following the Tokyo Olympic cycle, a weight she had previously competed at for both the London and Rio Olympic cycles.

Howell faced a tough opening round contest against Geke Van Den Berg (NED) who was seeded 6th. A blistering start from Howell saw her register a waza-ari score in the opening 30-seconds of the contest before some great groundwork saw her force her opponent to tap out.

Howell again trusted in her ability on the ground to win her second-round contest against Laura Vazquez-Fernandez (ESP) before booking her place in the Semi-Final with victory against Catherine Beauchemin-Pinard (CAN). The Canadian fighter picking up a third shido in Golden Score.

It took Howell just 30-seconds to secure her place in her first Grand Slam Final, a shime waza in the opening exchanges defeating Nadia Simeoli (ITA) to set up a gold medal contest against Megumi Horikawa (JPN).

The final was a tense affair with neither fighter battling for a superior grip. With the score even with both fighters awarded two penalty shidos each, Howell was further penalised for a leg grab, picking up a third, contest ending, shido; meaning she had to settle for silver.

Howell was delighted to make her first Grand Slam Final: “After Tokyo we made a decision to move back down to 63kg. I have worked with the support team to bring my weight down slowly to return to competition in 2022. I had my first competition back in Portugal a few weeks ago and it has taken me a couple of competitions to get back to competition fitness. I was disappointed with the final but will go back home and learn from it. Overall I am happy with today, including beating Tokyo Olympic bronze medallist.”

Petersen-Pollard had a long wait to open her campaign. Following an opening round bye the 5th seed booked her place in the Semi-Finals following victories against Shokhista Nazarova (UZB) and 4th seed, Kiriam Butkereit (GER). Both victories coming in Golden Score as her opponents picked up three shidos.

The Semi-Final was against top seed and recent World and Olympic bronze medallist Sanne van Dijke (NED). Unfortunately for Petersen-Pollard, the experience of the current European Champion was just too much, and defeat saw her progress to the bronze medal contest to face third seed Michaela Polleres (AUT).

A tsuri goshi at the halfway point of the contest gave Petersen-Pollard the upper hand against the Tokyo Olympic silver medallist. Petersen-Pollard defended well in the closing stages of the contest to win her third Grand Slam bronze medal of her career.

Petersen-Pollard was delighted with her performance: “Today was a great day! After getting a 5th place finish last weekend in Paris I am so happy to be on the podium. I have a lot to learn and work on and I’m very excited for what’s to come but I am very happy to be beating two girls in the top 10 in the world including the current Olympic silver medallist.”

Elsewhere today Jemima Yeats-Brown won her opening contest against Shaked Amihai (ISI) but was later defeated by 7th seed Elvismar Rodriguez (VEN).

Tomorrow sees Emma Reid in action as she looks to build upon her two 5th place finishes at the recent Paris Grand Slam and Portugal Grand Prix. Reid will face Giorgia Stangherlin (ITA) in the opening round.

Preliminary Round action starts at 09:30am whilst Final Block is scheduled to commence at 15:00.

You can watch all the action from the Tel Aviv Grand Slam LIVE on the British Judo homepage each day.