British Judo players from Wales are helping to raise the profile of the sport following Natalie Powell’s bronze medal in last weekend’s Croatian Grand Prix, her third so far at this level of competition.
Fighting in the same weight category as Olympic silver medallist Gemma Gibbons, both shared the podium as they each brandished bronze medals in the -78kg weight category.
Powell’s competition started with a narrow win by yuko over home judoka Ivana Maranic but then stalled with defeat in the semi-final to former Olympic bronze medallist, South Korea’s Gyeong-Mi Jeong by ippon.
However, at the same time as Gibbons was winning her bronze, Powell did the same on an adjacent mat with victory by ippon against German Annika Heise.
Speaking after the event, Powell, said: “I’m pleased at the way I have bounced back after my disappointment in Rio. The points will hopefully boost my ranking.”
Powell, 22, has enjoyed a good year so far with bronze medals in both the Miami and Samsun Grand Prix events.
This latest event was also a chance for the judoka, originally from Powys, to prove she can step out of Gemma’s shadow and shine just as bright.
She said: “My form is really good, I feel really strong and I hope I can achieve success along the lines Gemma has.
“It’s been kind of nice up until now being in her shadow, seeing all the extra attention she has had to deal with, but I feel I’m ready to step forward now and be in the limelight in my own right.
“It’s a great chance to have two British girls on the podium and being in contention. For me, I know it’s a great chance for me to equal or get past Gemma and show people what I can do.”
Powell’s optimism is shared by Nigel Donohue, performance director for British Judo, who said: “I’ve been watching Natalie over this last year and she has really impressed me.
“After her fifth place in the Moscow, she made the world’s top 16 and now she is really pushing hard in the -78kg category, alongside Gemma, and, potentially we could see two players making the Olympic Qualification standard.”
“The -78kg division is pretty closely fought, the ones at the top are close and I feel like I’m around them,” added Powell.
“Consistency is going to be the key through the next few years up to the Olympics.”
This weekend it is the turn of the future Olympians to make their mark in Europe in the Junior European Championships in Bosnia Herzegovina.
Great Britain is sending out two athletes from Wales who train at the Welsh Judo Association’s Academy in Cardiff.
These are Jade Lewis (-52kg), who achieved fifth in the European Cup in Bratislava two weeks ago (8-9 September) and Connor Ireland (-60kg), who won bronze at the La Coruna (U21) European Cup.
In addition, her sister Kirsty Powell (-57kg)from WJA Academy, Wales has been selected as a non-travelling reserve.
Words by Donna Richardson.