Sally Conway was crowned 2018 Paris Grand Slam champion after an outstanding day of judo on Sunday 11 February.
In doing so the -70kg judoka became only the sixth British fighter to win the Paris tournament, the first since Craig Fallon in 2003 and the first British women since Kate Howey MBE in 1997.
The Rio 2016 bronze medallist had won Paris bronze in 2016 and started her day with a solid win over France’s Melissa Heleine (FRA).
She threw the younger judoka for ippon with a minute and a half left having controlled large parts of the contest.
World No.6 Anna Bernholm (SWE) was next up in the round of 16 and the Swedish judoka had won a number of big medals in 2017 including Abu Dhabi Grand Slam gold.
The British judoka though put in a very professional performance, eventually winning with a late waza-ari in the last minute.
2017 World silver medallist Maria Perez (PUR) had beaten Conway the last time they’d met and it was another tough contest for the British judoka.
The fight went into golden score with both fighters having enjoyed periods of dominance. After over a minute of golden score Conway showed great determination to apply juji-gatame (arm lock) and forced Perez to tap.
This put Conway into semi-finals where she faced French judoka and World No.3 Marie Eve Gahie, who was guaranteed to have the vast majority of the capacity crowd on her side.
The tall and powerful French fighter looked dangerous in the standing exchanges but Conway always looked like she’d have a chance in newaza.
Eventually she saw her chance after a weak attack by Gahie and was able to secure the hold down for ippon.
This meant that Conway was the first British judoka into a Paris final since 2004, when Sarah Clark won silver.
World No.1 Chizuru Arai had beaten Conway in their two contests to date and the current World Champion was favourite going into the final.
Conway though put in a good, tactical performance and both judoka had chance to score in an exciting final.
In the final minute Arai went for a big attack which Conway defended well. The British judoka continued and rolled Arai to ground and secured the hold down, ending the contest with 20 seconds to go.
This also meant that British Judo ended the competition with three medals in total after Nekoda Smythe-Davis and Ashley McKenzie won bronze a day earlier.
Speaking afterwards Conway was understandably delighted with her result and pointed to a long period of preparation for this event as being key:
“I don’t think it’s even really sunk in yet. I’ve just come off the podium and listened to the national anthem in this amazing Bercy Stadium and it was just the best feeling ever.
“I think my preparation started last year when I did five weeks, six weeks in Japan and I felt like my judo come on really well. I felt like the improvements I needed to make were coming
“Then again in Mittersill this year I just felt like I was throwing a lot more, I was kind of clear on what I needed to do. I think that gave me a lot of confidence coming into this event.”
At -78kg Natalie Powell was looking to add another Paris Grand Slam medal to her collection. After getting a bye into the second round she faced Korea’s Jeongyun Lee.
Lee was the more positive judoka from the start but Powell showed her tactical ability to force the Korean to concede three shidos.
Moving into the quarter-finals Powell took on Tokyo Grand Slam champion Shori Hamada (JPN). The Japanese judoka won the fight inside the first minute as she threw Powell for waza-ari before finishing the contest in osaekomi.
This meant Powell dropped into the repechage with World Masters bronze medallist Karen Stevenson (NED) also vying for a spot in the bronze medal match.
The Dutch judoka was in impressive form as she threw Powell for waza-ari twice to take the win and move into the final block. This meant that Powell finished seventh at the Paris Grand Slam for the second year running.
Jemima Yeats-Brown put in a good effort on her Paris Grand Slam debut as she took on 2013 World bronze medallist Seongyeon Kim (KOR) in the first round at -70kg.
The 22 year old took the fight to her more experienced opponent from the start but Kim took the lead by waza-ari before finishing the contest in the final minute with another good throw.
Philip Awiti-Alcaraz (-100kg) was fighting in his second Paris Grand Slam but he was unable to make it past the first round today as he lost to Cedric Olivar (FRA) after conceding three shidos.
+78kg judoka Sarah Adlington was going into the Grand Slam off the back of a good 2017 that saw her win three Grand Prix medals. She faced Yan Wang (CHN) in her first contest and the Chinese judoka soon took control as she forced Adlington on the back foot.
Eventually the weight of attacks told and the British judoka conceded three shidos to exit in the second round.