Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 26 November 2014

Steven Beacom: Floored by judo pyjama party

Belfast's Lisa Kearney after her defeat to China's Shugen Wu
Belfast's Lisa Kearney after her defeat to China's Shugen Wu

I admit it - I've been lucky. In this job I've covered just about every big sporting event there is. Now I can add the Olympics to my list.

After a highly entertaining opening ceremony, it was time for the Games to officially begin.

And time to actually go and watch some sport.

There's enough choice - everything from archery to wrestling with BMX racing and trampolining in between.

Yeah, I know what you are thinking. You could have been a contender if only you had taken all that bouncing on holiday or whizzing about on your cool bike at home when you were a kid more seriously.

Taking a look down the long list of sports, you wonder what's next for the Olympics. Golf, in 2016, that's what. Shouldn't be allowed even if it will give us more medal prospects with Rory and G-Mac.

I'm not convinced about tennis or football either going on the theory that the Olympics should be the pinnacle of a particular sport, rather than an afterthought, even if it is a rather pleasurable and potentially golden one.

Grand Slams in tennis, the World Cup in football and majors in golf are the biggies in those fields. No matter how proud they say they are to be involved, these Games are not the greatest show on earth for Luis Suarez and Roger Federer or Tiger Woods four years down the line.

To me the Olympic spirit is all about athletics, boxing (amateur), rowing, swimming, gymnastics, diving and judo. Yes, judo, where competitors wear outfits resembling pyjamas.

I opted for judo as my first taste of Olympic action on Saturday. Why judo, you may ask? Well, Belfast girl Lisa Kearney also happened to be tasting Olympic action for the first time and I wanted to see how she got on.

Walking towards the ExCel Arena in London's Docklands on Saturday morning with thousands of others, you could reach out and touch the feel-good factor and a sense of great British pride. Everyone was buzzing about the brilliant opening ceremony the night before and the excitement that lay in front of them knowing that this was probably their only chance to see the Olympics in the flesh.

No one seemed to mind the tight airport security as men, women and children crowded into the impressive building, which is the largest competition venue at the Games, staging a variety of sports.

On Saturday there was boxing, fencing, table tennis and weightlifting and of course the judo.

I have to be honest, I'm no judo expert.

Thankfully though I wasn't alone in the packed North Arena 2 (no empty seats here), which included Prince Albert of Monaco.

The many spectators inside the atmospheric hall got their heads around the word “Ippon” which would flash up on large screens any time someone was thrown on to their back and a contest ended.

It seemed to happen quite a lot with two fights going on at the same time.

Judo may have the reputation for being a respectful sport with opponents bowing to each other before and after contests, but believe me it's tough with all those throws and holds. No prisoners taken here.

And certainly not with Team GB stars Ashley McKenzie in the men's 60kg class and Kelly Edwards in the women's 48kg, who despite receiving magnificent support, both left the big yellow mats misty-eyed and disappointed after seeing their Olympic dream end early.

And when I say early I mean it. A fight lasts five minutes, but many don't go that far.

You could boil an egg quicker. If scores are tied after the high tempo five, there is what's known as three minutes of “Golden Score” when the first score wins. It's like the old golden goal rule in football.

Lisa's fight went to “Golden Score” though sadly there was no penalty shoot-out with her Chinese opponent getting one of those Ippons just over a minute in.

Watching the preparation was as fascinating as the fight itself.

With a conveyor belt of contests, before they got to the mat competitors queued up patiently as if they were waiting to buy cinema tickets with other fights going on in front of them.

As Lisa, wearing all blue, waited for her turn, she tried to stay focused and loose, jumping on the spot, stretching and slapping her face a few times gearing up for battle on Mat 2.

To my untrained eye, Kearney (pictured) looked the more aggressive but it was the Chinese girl who took a 1-0 lead before Northern Ireland's finest ever female judoka equalised only to lose in dramatic fashion during the “Golden Score”.

Pity - but the bright Belfast girl, who had come through five operations in her teenage years to fulfil her Olympic dream, says she'll be back and I believe her.

On Saturday morning Kearney's London 2012 may have ended, but my Olympic journey had just begun...it was time for the boxing, rowing, swimming, gymnastics, judo and athletics.

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