To give an accurate landscape of the Australian Judo team on a world scale, I believe it is important to evaluate where we’ve been, where we’re at and where we can possibly go in the future.
For many of Australia’s current Judo players, coaches and fans the names Suzanne Williams and Theo Boronovskis don’t ring too many bells. The truth is Theo won an Olympic Bronze Medal in 1964 and Suzanne Gold in 1988 (was a test event for women, so doesn’t count on IOC list).
There are other names like Rosser, Grainger, Reardon, Val and many more that were able to make the medal play-offs of World and Olympic Games. From the early years of international Judo through to the late 80’s Australia had a team that was up there and competitive on the world stage. These were definitely the glory years for our national team.
Then came a very tricky time for the team. Firstly the Soviet Union was broken up. This meant that instead of facing 1 very hard Soviet opponent in a draw, you now have to face 15!
Secondly was the growth of Judo. Through the 90’s Judo exploded and we began to see the likes of China, Brasil, Mongolia, Azerbaijan and Canada make waves on the Judo scene fairly quickly as they had rich bases in other martial arts.
Australia’s isolation also proved to be a hindrance as Judo became worldlier. Whereas the world judo circuit meant regular trips to Japan and then the odd venture to Europe, it now involved travelling to every continent on Earth.
What the other countries also had that Australia lacked was solid funding. Foreign Judo athletes were able to train full time, travel and compete without having to worry about where they would find next month’s rent let alone airfares to get to the competitions.