Howell hungry for success

Shropshire judo star Gemma Howell is poised for a landmark week ahead.

Team GB's Gemma Howell during the Judo World Championships team announcement and media day at the BJA Centre of Excellence, Walsall..
Team GB's Gemma Howell during the Judo World Championships team announcement and media day at the BJA Centre of Excellence, Walsall..

The 30-year-old player jets off to Budapest, Hungary tomorrow to compete in the World Championships, which run until next weekend.

This week also marked another milestone in the countdown to the delayed 2020 Tokyo Olympics, with less than 50 days to go until action gets underway.

That means judo players face the unique prospect of challenging in the two major events, the World Championships and Olympic Games, within barely a couple of months.

The Worlds pose the last opportunity for ranking qualification points for Tokyo. Team GB's Olympic squad is not officially named until late this month, but Howell, 30, says she will learn her fate for the Games following the exploits in Hungary this week.

It would be a second Olympics for Telford's Howell, who also competed in London 2012 but was seen off in round one by the reigning World Champion. The -70kg player, a member of Wolverhampton Judo Club and ranked 16th in the world, , maintains her dream is Olympic success.

"I competed in the London Olympics which was an incredible experience, but I remember the very big low afterwards," Howell said.

"I had the World Champion in the first fight which was a very unlucky draw and unfortunately I lost to her, which was devastating, because the dream is to try to win the Olympics.

"Two of my friends got medals, it was a really successful Olympics for judo, it was the best feeling in the world watching that happen."

Howell revealed the challenges to judo players during lockdown included daily sessions on Zoom with her coach – which were limited due to obvious non-contact reasons, as well as 'beating up' her sister in the back garden.

Her mum Suzanne is on standby in case rules change and families are permitted to attend Tokyo as spectators, but overseas supporters have already been banned from travelling. A decision will be made next month on whether the games will be entirely behind closed doors, or local fans will be permitted. They are set to begin on July 23.

"It won't be a normal Olympic games, obviously it's a dream for all athletes to get to the Olympics," Stafford-born Howell added.

"My mum is refusing to cancel her flights just in case there's an off-chance they cancel the rules and they can come and watch.

"My family are the best supporters in the world and they have followed me around the world. I would love to have them there for them. The Olympics is as special for them as it is for me."

But for now European Championship bronze medallist Howell is focused solely on this week's Worlds event in Budapest, where her weight career takes to the mat on Thursday.

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