It was smiles all round for Gemma Howell who won a bronze medal in her first Grand Prix competition back after injury and scooped 120 points to help her on the road to Rio.
Howell’s route to her medal at the Croatian Grand Prix in Zagreb on 13 September, involved an ippon win in her first fight against Baez Lauren of USA, then by three shidos to one against Anna Bernholm of Sweden (ranked 30 places above Howell in the world ranking list).
Against Baez, Howell controlled the tempo for the first two minutes then scored a yuko with a seoi nage as Baez was forced to open up a little more to stay in the contest. She transitioned smoothly into a shime waza for ippon. The contest against Bernholm was tougher with it going the full 4 minutes. Neither player was able to score and Howell won the contest.
She lost to world bronze medallist Tina Trstenjak (ranked number 6 in the world) of Slovenia by a single shido. Howell was caught in a strong osae komi in the opening minute by the world bronze medalist; but was able to escape without giving away a score. Trstenjak received some medical treatment shortly afterwards, after which Howell attacked relentlessly, but without managing to catch Trstenjak. With 20 seconds to go Howell was penalised and was unable to find a way to score in the remaining time.
Trstenjak continuedon to win the gold medal and Howell went into the repechage where she bounced back to claim an ippon victory over Katharina Haecker of Australia with Kesa Gatame before winning the bronze medal against Edwige Gwend of Italy (who also fought for bronze at the World Championships in Chelyabinsk recently) on penalties.
The 24-year old was delighted to medal in her first international competition back from injury. She said: “I am so happy to be back and medalling at this level. I have had a very frustrating nine months through injury and times were difficult.
“Now I’m feeling strong and fit and this is a small step towards qualifying for Rio. Thanks to everyone that helped me get back to full fitness.”
Lead women’s coach Kate Howey, MBE, said: “It’s good to see Gemma again at a Grand Prix after 15 months of injury. Gemma fought well and deserved the bronze medal beating Gwend who is ranked tenth in the world. She lost on a single shido to the world bronze medallist from Slovenia in a close fight. Considering she is a bit fight rusty she has done really well.”
Under 70kg Commonwealth Games medallists Sally Conway (Scotland) and Megan Fletcher (England) were fighting in the same category in Zagreb and both secured precious world ranking points. Conway took fifth place, scooping 60 points, while Megan Fletcher finished a solid seventh place, gaining 48 points.
At one point the pair looked likely to meet in the bronze medal match, had Megan Fletcher have won her repechage match against Maria Portela of Brazil to meet Conway in the bronze medal match.
Fletcher lost by ippon but still took seventh place. Portella went on to meet Conway instead – putting paid to all hopes of a re-match of Glasgow 2014.
That left only Conway primed to take the -70kg bronze but Portela caught Sally unawares with a strangle on the ground in ne-waza, forcing her to tap out. Portela, having overcome them both in the end, went on to take the bronze medal prize.
Fletcher first beat Anka Pogancnik of Slovenia on shidos to progress to the second round against Iljana Marzok of Germany which she also won by the same measure. However, Fletcher then lost out by a single shido to Barbara Matic of Croatia and then was finally beaten in the repechage by Maria Portela of Brazil for ippon. Conway won her first match against Valeria Ferrari of Italy by ippon after having led with a yuko. She continued in fine form to win by waza-ari against Alena Eiglova of Czech Republic. However, Conway lost her semi final against Katarzyna Klys of Poland before she went on to fight Portela of Brazil for bronze.
Words by Donna Richardson.