Olympians past, present and future remember the late Ryan Birch

Goole Judo Club was graced with the presence of three Olympians on Sunday, February 9, 2014, as Rowena Birch, Chloe Cowan and 2012 bronze medallist Karina Bryant were on hand to support an Olympic Exhibition.

Karina who represented Great Britain in Beijing 2008 and London 2012 – the latter where she won bronze, gave a master class at the Leisure Centre as the evening recognised her outstanding contribution to judo.

Karina, who retired a year to the date she won her medal in London, was supported by Sydney Olympian Chloe Cowan.

Around 80 players were on the mat plus many spectators attended the day organised by the Yorkshire and Humberside Area.

Connor Potts, a member of the GB Junior squad who trains at Goole and is aspiring to be on the 2020 Olympic team, said:

“It was an honour to meet Karina and was great that she came to take our area session.

“Karina is an inspiration to the younger generation coming up through the ranks in judo.”

Rowena Birch, who represented Great Britain at the 1996 Atlanta Games and is now a board member of British Judo, gave a presentation to Karina on behalf of the Yorkshire and Humberside Area.

“This day was an opportunity to celebrate Karina’s successes to recognise her achievements among the judo community,” she said.

Karina Bryant meets Connor Potts

“We are all very proud of Karina. It was also nice when Karina mentioned that she had been inspired as a young judo player by players such as Chloe and myself. She went on and achieve an Olympic medal for Great Britain.

“Now Karina is inspiring the next generation.”


The evening also served as a memorial to Rowena’s husband Ryan Birch who was tragically killed in a road traffic collision in the Bahamas last year at the age of 43.

The Yorkshire and Humberside area had arranged a special surprise presentation in loving memory of Ryan, an Olympian who represented Team GB at both the 1992 Barcelona and 1996 Atlanta Games.

Ryan, originally from Hull, also won gold at the European Championships in Gdansk, Poland.

The Mayor and Mayoress of Goole, councillor Craig Taylor and Mandie Hudson presented medals on behalf of the Area.

Rowena received three gold medals for herself and the couple’s children Alana and Ellis, that were engraved with personal messages in memory of Ryan, along with flowers and a cheque for the Winston Churchill Foundation Trust.

The Trust once provided travel fellowships for Rowena and Ryan to study judo in Japan and Korea.

Rowena praised the event saying: “In recognition of Ryan’s achievements in judo and as a person, I was very honoured to receive medals for myself and our children.

“It was a very personal and touching tribute. “It was a very special day for me to see all of Ryan’s friends together in the same room for the first time since his funeral. “

It was lovely to remember the good times with friends from Haltonprice and all those people had such a big impact on Ryan’s development particularly Seth Birch and Jeff Brady.

“Yorkshire and Humberside has a strong connection with Goole as it is where we organise club get together’s and competitions.”

Dermot Heslop, Service Manager for the Northern area and Yorkshire and Humberside added:

“The atmosphere in the hall was electric. Coaches, players and spectators were all impressed with Karina’s enthusiasm, knowledge and down to earth nature.

“There was not a dry eye in the house as we remembered the legendary Ryan Birch.”

Words by Donna Richardson.

Image by Bob Willingham, from the European Championships 1994, where Ryan won gold. Other images supplied by the Yorkshire and Humberside area.