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43rd Junior, Cadet & 8th U21 European Championships, Limassol, Cyprus, 5-7 Februrary 2016
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The sheer size of this venue and the atmosphere were clearly a challenge for even the most experienced athletes. Natalie Williams, already a World Bronze Medallist, was not quite able to fight at her best. She won her first round bout comfortably, but seemed slow to start. The same in her next bout against Turkey, until she went a point down and then started showing her real talent, but unfortunately ran out of time.
Carla Burkitt fought brilliantly. She beat her Korean opponent convincingly in the first bout, then faced the Ecuadorian competitor ranked 5th in the world and beat her 4-0! Into the last 16 and she lost a close bout against a fantastic Turkish girl. Unfortunately, the Turkish competitor was winning the semi-final 3-0 against China, but was disqualified with only a few seconds remaining, thus denying Carla a place in the repechage. Shame, but she is still only 22, so will have many more chances.
Jordan Thomas also fought very well. His first opponent was from Ecuador and is the current Pan-American Champion. As the Ecuadorian attacked, Jordan leant back and scored with a most spectacular ura mawashi geri jodan (reverse roundhouse kick to the head). In his second bout, he fought an excellent German competitor in a very close contest, unfortunately losing by a single point. One might say 'chip off the old block' as his father, Willie Thomas, himself a former World Champion, must have been very proud.
At the end of Jordan's last bout, despite having lost, he went over to his opponent and raised his hand. This very sporting gesture did not go unnoticed and the WKF Chief Referee, Javier Escalante, spoke to the EKF President, Carl Lindley, to acknowledge that. Snr Escalante went on to praise English competitors in the past for their sportsmanship, naming Tricia Duggin and Wayne Otto as athletes who never showed any reaction or dissent when they did not agree with a decision and stating how this was behaviour the referees respected. Earlier in the competition, a fighter from another country refused to shake the hand of his opponent and this one act reflected more on the country than on the individual.
Ross Mathieu was the next fighter and one of the smallest in his category. He fought magnificently with incredibly fast movements. Ross beat his first opponent 8-0, then beat the Venezuelan who had just beaten the current European Silver Medallist. Ross then beat Hungary in the next round and went into the last 8. With 30 seconds to go he was winning, but seemed to tire and his Egyptian opponent equalised. It was all square at the end, but the Egyptian went through on flags. Another young competitor in his first senior event.
Chelsea Sydes was arguably the most nervous competitor of the whole competition. Endless questions, bowing all the time and even asking Assistant Coach, Davin Pack, "Is it always like this?". Priceless. Her face was a picture of nervousness on a close up on the huge screen above the arena, captured on camera by the coaches. This was when she was 5-0 up in her first bout against the European Silver Medallist! She dominated the start of her next bout against China, but tragically the two competitors fell awkwardly during an attempted 'sweep' and Chelsea did not get up. Stretchered off, she had dislocated her elbow. This was put back in place immediately by the excellent medical staff at the venue then off to hospital with our Physiotherapist, Mo Surdar. Nothing broken, but a plaster cast on her arm to immobilise it. Lucky our Chaperone, World Gold Medallist Katie Hurry was there to tie Chelsea's shoe laces! Katie is also recovering from injury and we wish both these athletes a speedy return to the Team. It was ironic that the Chinese competitor reached the final.
Another demonstration event for athletes with disabilities took place. This was the Kata for wheelchair users. It was wonderful and moving to see a clearly very disabled athlete perform a Kata with precisely the focus and martial spirit shown by able-bodied competitors.
The next events were the Team Kata categories. England does not have any history in this event and when the Mens Team of Jonathan Mottram, Alex Gardner and John Gardiner drew European Sliver Medallists Spain in the first round, this was a tough draw. I don't know what odds bookmakers might have given against England winning, but they performed fantastically and did just that! In the next round, they faced France, one of the favourites and lost. Unfortunately, France went out to Japan in the semi-finals so no repechage. Still, England has shown itself capable to beating one of the best teams in the world. Enormous credit must go to Kata Coach, Jonathan Mottram, for developing English Kata so much.
The Ladies Team of Mellisa Williamson, Aimee Sell and Natalie Payne are all under 18 but also performed very well. Unfortunately, they drew one of the favourites, Italy, in the first round. They were more 'together' than their opponents, but the Italians were just stronger. Italy reached the finals, so England were in the repechage. They were not quite as together as they had been in the first round, but nonetheless lost only 3-2 on flags against Ecuador. This team is very promising, particularly for the upcoming Junior European Championships.
More again tomorrow....
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