Natalie Powell says she is ready to step out of Gemma Gibbons’ shadow when both step onto the tatami today at the World Judo Championships in Brazil.
Welsh fighter Powell, from Powys competes in the same -78kg weight division as London 2012 silver medallist Gibbons and has spent the last 12 months watching her team-mate become the poster girl for judo in the UK.
But while both girls are able to compete in Rio this time, only one of them can return to Brazil in three years time as there is only one place available in each weight division for the Olympics.
And with that in mind, Powell is determined to make sure the -78kg is not a one-woman show as far as British judo is concerned.
“I’m really looking forward to it, it’s my first World Championships and I’ve been doing pretty well this season so hopefully, I can get amongst the medals,” she said.
“My form is really good, I feel really strong and I’m really looking forward to it and hopefully I can achieve success along the lines people like Gemma have.
“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 for us to get two British girls on the podium and being in contention and 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, 22, has enjoyed a good year so far with bronze medals in both the Miami and Samsun Grand Prix events.
She also finished fifth at the recent Moscow Grand Slam after losing out to Marhinde Verkerk of The Netherlands.
The Dutch woman also beat Gibbons in Moscow, avenging the British judoka’s victory in London last year.
And Powell acknowledges Verkerk is likely to be one of the main ones to beat in Rio.
“Me and Gemma both fought her in Moscow and lost out to her but, for both of us, they were narrow defeats so we know we can match and beat Verkerk and the other girls in our category on our day,” she said.
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, not just for the World Championships but through the next few years up to the Olympics.
“It’s a major part of what makes success and I think I’m getting better and stronger all the time on that front.”
By John Smith. Images Mike Varey.