April 29 2012 will be a day I never forget. It was on this day I realised my dream of qualifying for an Olympic Games. I may have ruined the ending of this story just then so I will give you a play by play of how the day went for me.
The normal post weigh-in eating and drinking binge got started at 8:01 am and had me feeling energised and ready for battle. Once the belly was full it was time to get my headphones on, gather my team mates and walk down to the competition venue.
My first fight was fight 8 so I had to get taped up and warm asap. I was lucky that my main training partner Perry was competing in the junior competition and had volunteered to be my throwing dummy (I think he regretted that statement by the end of the day). I felt great in warm up and once I had drilled all the throws, grips, transitions and had a stretch it was time to put on my hoodie, headphones on and wait for my turn to fight.
I don’t usually get too nervous for a prelim match, but since a win here was enough to cement my Olympic spot my heart was racing. I had planned to start conservatively and build (last thing I needed was to blow everything trying to be a hero) but I was able to throw my opponent from VAN with a drop seio for wazari off the first exchange. I guess I tasted blood because I soon followed that up with a sode for ippon and it was over. I raced off the mat as soon as possible because I didn’t want to think about what that win meant. I changed my gi for my next fight and went to cheer on my team mates in their bouts. I was at OJU Championships to win gold and help my team mates do the same, I wasn’t going to think about Olympic Qualifying until the job was done.
Soon enough it was time for my semi final against Leat from NZL, he’s a well known foe of mine and one who is more than capable of launching me if I drop my guard for a second. My strategy was to not follow him and if possible wind him up for my seio nage. What prevailed was an almighty battle where we threw everything at each other for five minutes but failed to trouble the scorers. I had a false alarm when they gave one of my throws an Ippon but rescinded it upon video review. In golden score I knew I had to lift and I almost scored half a dozen times.
As the match entered the last minute of golden score I knew I had to finish him, I am not a fan of leaving my fate in the ref’s hands. I locked on a top grip with my right hand and dragged my opponent in. He quickly entered for uchi mata and we were both airborne, lucky my instincts were good and I used my top grip to turn his shoulders and bring him down onto his back. Ippon. Thank goodness for that!
Again I got off the mat as soon as possible and got changed out of my kit. I even took off my strapping tape and tried to switch off my thoughts and emotions about my event. Luckily for me, the team was on fire and I had a lot of cheering to do. Once the prelim fights were complete I left the athlete’s area and went to say hi to my family and friends in the crowd.
I wanted to let them know I was grateful for their support. When conversation turned to ‘are you qualified, can we celebrate?’ I knew it was my cue to head back and prepare for final.
As I began to warm up again and go through the motions it dawned on me that my normal aches and pains weren’t even registering. Either I was going through some sort of denial or some mind over body stuff was working a treat, either way I was pumped for my final!
I’ve always been a sucker for a big occasion so when I saw the crowd start to fill up, the lights dimmed and the drum rolls going I knew this wasn’t any other competition. My normal over-analytical mindset was gone, I had one plan; win, no matter how!
As I watched the other finals play out my nerves were completely gone, I just wanted to fight. 'Eye of the Tiger' blaring through my headphones probably didn’t help this. I had a kind of primal urge which I wasn’t sure I could control (not that I particularly wanted to).
They began with the lightest divisions first so I didn’t have to wait too long for my turn.
The final started quite tactically with intense grip battles and not much big attacks from either of us. I felt that I was getting on top because I was able to establish my preferred grip and began getting my opponent to move where I wanted. I was able to launch a couple of good attacks but nothing worthy of a score. After a bit of a scramble I set up one of my favourite transitions ‘The Huizinga’ and put all of my energy into removing my opponents arm. I failed at that but I felt his mood shift, it was like it took all of his energy to hang on.
I stepped up my intensity and I guess that taste of blood was back. I launched into a sode tsuri komi goshi attack and was able to roll my opponent for a Yuko. In the proceeding scramble I didn’t know whether they had scored the throw or not but I sure as hell knew his arm was away from his body and I jumped on it. I was hanging off the side of his body and he was trying to stand up and have matte called. I knew I had to straighten that arm pronto.
After a bit of a yank I felt the arm straighten and his body coming back down to the ground, this was followed with the sweet sound of tap, tap, tap and the sweeter sound of the referee calling IPPON!
I then jumped around like a child at Disney land because I had achieved a goal set for myself 21 years ago when I first put on a Judo Gi. I didn’t run off the mat this time because I wanted to let the moment soak in, when I felt tears coming on I got the hell out of there.
The next couple of hours was a blur. I spent time cheering my team on, hugging everyone I could, providing a urine sample for the anti doping people, crying with mum, crying with dad, crying with my fiancé (you get the drift…) and watching as my peers gave everything they had to realise their own dreams too.
By the end of the day I had a bizarre feeling. I was happier for my friends, family, coaches, sponsors and team than myself. I have wanted this for so long but all of these people have been on this roller coaster journey the whole way too.
Now, my mindset has already switched to July 29, the day I compete in London. I will work with my coaches to set myself up for a run at a medal. Given that four out of Australia’s five person
team for London train together every day in Melbourne I reckon we’ll be pushing each other on all the way.
There are too many people for me to thank individually so I can only say THANK YOU ALL.