One week on from the trip to Warwick, it was time for the rather more serious proposition of the BUCS Judo championships. This is the biggest judo event for UK universities and colleges, and attracts a wide range of abilities from those starting out in judo, through national squad players, up to the highest level with Emmanuel Nartey who competed at the London Olympics for Ghana and is currently studying at the University of East London taking part as the defending champion at U73kg.
The event is split into two tiers – a championship for Kyu grades (coloured belts) and the marquee Dan grade event for brown and black belt players. We had just one player in the Dan grade category with Edgar Polovinkins at U81Kg and 3 players entered in the Kyu grade event – Sarah Wilmore at U52kg, Daulet Illyasso at U81kg and Callum Rollo at U90kg.
The event is held at part of the larger BUCS Championship weekend in Sheffield so on Friday afternoon we headed out into the weekend traffic to wind our way up to the weigh in. After a rather tedious time in M1 traffic we made the weigh in in good time, licenses had been renewed along the way (!), and all players made their weight with no need for any last minute drastic efforts to save a few grams.
All that was left was to find our way to our slightly eery motel style accommodation, fill up on pasta and get an early-ish night.
Day 1 of the event is the individual championship and with 2 parallel competitions across all weights, the timetable was packed and we had players scheduled to compete from the beginning of the day through to the very end.
Judo events typically run in the same way as the football world championships – a group/pool stage where all concerned compete with the other pool members to earn entry into the knockout stage. Contests are schedule for 4 to 5 minutes depending on level but an outright win (ippon) can come at any time from a clean throw, a 20 second hold down, or a submission.
First out to get things started was Edgar who was in a pool of 3 players, and he immediately showed his class with his first contest over in 7 seconds with a very nice harai goshi in the middle of the mat. His second contest was over even faster as he threw his opponent for ippon with seoi nage in just 5 seconds. That put him nicely through to the knockout stage in the afternoon.
Next out was Daulet who had a pool of 4 players. Like Edgar he was clearly in no mood to spend too much time fighting and his first contest was over and done with in 8 seconds with a powerful tai otoshi throw. His second contest took a little longer but was still a convincing win scoring first with tai otoshi again, before then scoring ippon with his favourite ura nage pickup. His final contest returned to efficiency, throwing again with tai otoshi for a waza-ari score and finishing off with an armlock to gain a submission, finishing the contest in 17 seconds. That put Daulet into the knockout stage as well having won his pool convincingly.
Things got more hectic as we moved into the afternoon. First we had Callum in the U90kg pool stage. With a pool of 3 players to compete with and he was able to win both his contests convincingly, first with a hold and then with a nicely executed sumi gaeshi sacrifice throw.
Next we had Edgar returning for the knockout stage in the U81kg category. Having made the pool look easy, we knew the knockout would be a different proposition with the middle weights always being packed with good quality players. A relatively comfortable win against a “home” Sheffield player in the first round set him up with a quarter final against Gytis Jucikas from Nottingham University. This turned into a battle of wills with each player scoring multiple times with the lowest yuko score and conceding penalties for technical infringements of the contest rules. After 5 minutes of tense competition the contest went to Gytis with 4 yukos to Edgar’s 3. Unfortunately, perhaps partly due to fatigue from the quarter final, Gytis was thrown for ippon in the semi final which meant Edgar was not given the chance to compete for bronze via the repechage.
The last player to get started for the day was Sarah. With a smaller entry for the lighter women’s weight groups Sarah was competing in a combined U48kg/U52kg category as in the previous week’s competition at Warwick. Some strong players were present in the U52kg sub section and unfortunately Sarah wasn’t able to follow up the Warwick gold with a BUCS medal.
Next to return for the knockout was Daulet. With a bye in the first round, he entered the competition in the round of 16 and this time won with a choke on his opponent from Oxford. That set up a quarter final with a russian player, Dmitry Nikonov, from Loughborough; this turned out to be the toughest contest of the day and Dmitry showed that he was very keen not to be caught by Daulet’s big throws with some very strong defense. Eventually he wore Daulet down and was able to pin him in a hold down to move onto the semi final. Fortunately a rapid win in the semi final for Dmity meant that Daulet would return in the repechage to compete for a bronze medal.
In the repechage things returned to fast and efficient work and in the first round Daulet produced another armlock in under 20 seconds to setup a bronze medal fight against Edmund Richens from Anglia Ruskin. Once again the tai otoshi throw was brought out and the bronze medal secured in just 15 seconds.
Final contests for the day for our team was Callum in the U90kg knockout. His first contest in the quarter final stage was another quick encounter with his opponent thrown in 9 seconds with o uchi gari. The semi final was a more cagey affair against a lively player from the strong looking Durham team. Playing things carefully, Callum was able to throw twice for waza-ari and moved into the final.
His opponent in the final, Cian Grace from Leeds, had looked good in earlier contests with some very clean throws so we knew this was going to be a difficult proposition. That proved to be the case and a nicely timed throw caught Callum out, but left him a very worthy winner of the silver medal.
After collecting our rewards for the day is was back to the hotel for some recovery before returning on Sunday for the team competition.
The Sunday at BUCS is a team judo competition. Players are organised by weight and institution teams compete for the highly regarded trophies, in particular the Yukio Tani vase awarded to the winning men’s team.
While we have had some success in the competition in the past, this time we knew we were going to need an awful lot of luck to make it very far – a team of only 3 men where up to 5 are allowed meant that we could not lose any contests! Unfortunately the draw was not kind to us with Bath, Nottingham and Wolverhampton in our pool. Seeing Bath in the pool is always challenging but the seeded team was Nottingham who were medallists from the previous year. As it turned out, Wolverhampton were also a force to be reckoned with.
It was an uphill battle. After a losing convincingly to Wolverhampton, Edgar and Callum ensured we did not go home without victories in our matches with Nottingham and Bath, but ultimately the pool was won by Wolverhampton with Nottingham second, and they went on to take gold and bronze medals respectively in the knockout. Wolverhampton completed a successful day by also winning the women’s team competition.
After 2 hard days of judo, it was a slightly smoother drive back south, some people happy to have come home with medals and others with a clearer idea of the level of competition to prepare for in coming years.
Well done to all who took part, and big thanks to Sarah who took on the bulk of the organisational duties.