Keeping Judo in the Family

Judo is a family sport and at this years Commonwealth Games British Judo has brothers and sisters all competing on the same team and even a husband and wife competing on opposite teams, writes Donna Richardson.

Husband and wife fight for different countries

Married couple Euan Burton and Gemma Gibbons will be in different camps at the Games in a couple of weeks time.

The Team GB golden couple provided some of the most emotional memories from London 2012 and after eight months after Gibbons took the Olympic silver medal they married and set up home together in Edinburgh.

But they are both hoping to be in the medals in Glasgow, the next city on from the couples marital home of Scotland, with, London-born Gemma fighting for England and Euan, from East Lothian, flying the flag for Scotland.

Furthermore, Euan Burton will be fighting at -100kg three weight groups above his Olympic category and one he was last crowned champion of the -100kg class at the 2013 European Open at the same venue last October.

Burton, 34, said: “It’s going to be the first time we’ve ever fought for the Home Nations.

“Up until now, the competitions we’ve been in have always been about fighting for GB. “So it will certainly make for an interesting dynamic. “I’ll still be cheering on my wife, though, as will my family. They’ll have Saltires and St George’s cross flags. Although my nana wasn’t so sure at first. “Gemma asked if she’d be supporting her at the Games and Nana said, ‘Of course, hen’. “But when Gemma told her she’d be fighting for England, she said, ‘Oh, I don’t know about that, then’.”

The couple both train at Judo Scotland’s headquarters at Ratho, near Edinburgh, where Gemma is working hard towards the Rio Olympics in 2016. Euan, meanwhile, has turned his hand to high-performance coaching. But having won prestigious European competitions in a new weight category recently, he is also hoping to be fighting, not just coaching, for Scotland at the Commonwealth Games. Gemma said: “Either way, he’ll be in the Scotland camp and I’ll be in England’s.

“It’ll be fine, though. “Euan wants me to win if I am competing and I want him to win, whether he’s fighting or coaching. “We are not judo-obsessed but we do love winning.”

Sisters fly the Welsh flag

Welsh star Natalie Powell fights in the same class as Olympic silver medallist and home rival Gemma Gibbons.

The pair may well find themselves on different teams fighting each other at the Commonwealths, but both hope to secure the GBR spot for the 2016 Olympic Olympic Games.

Outside the dojo Natalie studies Biomedical Science at Cardiff University. She said: I’m really excited for the Commonwealth Games. To have the chance to fight for Wales and hear the Welsh national anthem playing would be a dream come true.

What with judo not a part of many Commonwealth Games, Glasgow 2014 may be my one and only chance to become Commonwealth Champion. It is a really important event for me and all of my support team back in Wales. Training’s been going really well and I’m feeling confident going into Glasgow. It’s great to have my sister Kirsty on the team to, to share the experience, it just makes it even more exciting.”

Twenty year old Kirsty Powell has also been selected for the Games. Natalie has been doing judo since the age of six, following in her elder sisters footsteps. Outside of judo she enjoys playing netball for her county.

“It’s an amazing feeling to represent my country in the Commonwealth Games,” she said.

“I have always wanted to go since I was a young girl. It’s even better that my sister is going as well. I’ve been training full time for two years now. I train three times a day and then usually have a competition on the weekend.”

Brother and sister on the England Squad

Former European Cadet Championship bronze medallist Megan Fletcher took seventh-place at the Olympic Test Event and counts a gold in the Panamerican open in Uruguay in March followed by silver in another Pan Amercian Open the same month followed by a recent bronze in the European Open in Spain.

She now has her sights firmly set on Rio 2016 combining her training for this with working part-time as a geography teacher.

Her brother is 2011 Junior World bronze medallist Ben Fletcher, who made the transition from -90kg to -100kg in 2013, taking silver in the British Championships in Sheffield followed by gold in the Pan American Open in Montevideo and then bronze at the same level of tournament in Buenos Aires the same week. 

Megan said: “It’s an amazing experience to be competing in the Commonwealth Games and aiming for a medal. But to be able to have that experience with my brother is even better. It’s great to have someone who knows exactly what you are going through, and to have that support is great.”

Scottish sisters train together

Kimberley and Louise Renicks are both looking forward to the Games.

Kim is one of the leading competitors in the -48kg category and underlined her ability by winning bronze in the Pan American Open in San Salvador this year. Other major results have been winning the 2012 World Cup in Samoa and and taking silver at the British Closed in January and bronze at the British Open in May. She rose to acclaim by winning the 2009 GB World Cup at the age of 21 and has been a fixture on the elite world circuit for six years. She’ll be fighting with her sister Louise.

Kim said: “It feels great to fight with my sister we both are training partners and have also push each other to do other best .It ‘s a great feeling to have a sister experiencing the same things as yourself.

Louise, fighting at -52kg, like her sister has had an impressive year as both sisters travelled across the globe winning silvers in the world cups in Argentina and Uruguay, adding to her silver in Mauritius and bronzes in Samoa and Salvador 2013 bronze. She also took seventh place in the Azerbaijan Grand Prix of 2013.

Louise said: “2014 is a special year as Scotland and my home town Glasgow are hosting the Commonwealth Games. I have been selected to represent Scotland and I am looking forward to July 24 as this will be the opening day for the sports.

“Judo happens to be on the first day and I will be competing alongside other team members and my sister. It will be very different from any other competition, as most of my family and friends have tickets to watch, along with the supporters of judo and home ground supporters. I cannot imagine what the atmosphere is going to be like, but I do know Scotland fans well and they will be loud, supportive and causing the stadium atmosphere to be one of a kind and a memory that will last for ever.”