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Page last updated at 21:25 GMT, Thursday, 10 December 2009

Sarah Clark queries GB judo plan ahead of Grand Slam

By Ollie Williams

Sarah Clark
Clark won European silver in 2009 and competing at the 2008 Olympics

South Shields judo star Sarah Clark has questioned British Judo's approach to the sport's new world rankings system on the eve of the Tokyo Grand Slam.

British Judo sent players into fewer fights in 2009, preferring to focus on training instead, but world ranking points can only be earned at events.

"A lot of people are getting hammered in the rankings," Clark told BBC Sport.

But British Judo insists it had a long-term plan in place to increase the number of events entered.

Karen Roberts, British Judo's performance operations manager, told BBC Sport the policy would pay dividends at the 2012 Olympics in London.

"For the first time, we're looking at this as a four-year cycle," said Roberts.

"We made a strategic decision that the first year of that cycle is about the technical development of the players, because you can't go back and do that fine-tuning later.

We've not had the opportunities to fight so it's really difficult for people to prove themselves

Sarah Clark

"We knew that in the first year, taking the approach of not entering every event, there would be situations where we won't be ranked when we turn up at events.

"But next year it all shifts and we start to look at performance - there will be a transition into Olympic mode, and our players will go out to more events."

A new, points-based world rankings system came into being in January this year, and players further down the rankings face the prospect of being drawn against a top seed in the early stages of major tournaments.

The Tokyo Grand Slam, which begins in Japan on Friday, is one of four Grand Slam events held each year, and carries hefty world ranking points bonuses.

Clark, who won silver in the -57kg category at this year's European Championships, believes prioritising training over tournaments may leave some younger Britons at a disadvantage.

"We've entered fewer tournaments and that has a direct effect on where we're ranked," she said.

Euan Burton (top)
Euan Burton (in blue) is one of the Britons seeded at the Grand Slam

"It's made it tough. In the last year we have not entered that many tournaments so British players aren't currently ranked very high. You could potentially face the top seed in your first fight.

"We've not had the opportunities to fight so it's really difficult for people to prove themselves."

Britain has sent its largest ever Grand Slam squad to Japan, but Clark is concerned the low rankings of many players could prove an insurmountable obstacle.

"With the numbers we've got here in Tokyo we could do something, players could come through, but it's going to be tough because we've got the hardest players in the first fights," she added.

"The one thing we've got in our favour is we don't have to qualify for London, we can automatically put players into the Olympics. But if you're only getting one fight per tournament, as a younger player, it's really difficult."

Roberts admitted members of the British team had needed some convincing, but insisted there was support for the strategy.

"They are competitors and it is a huge culture change for them," she said. "We're so used to chasing every result like it's the last rather than sitting back and deciding what's going to make an Olympic champion.

"It's been a tough year for them holding themselves back. They know why, that was communicated to them in November last year, but if you're a born competitor it's frustrating.

Only two years out from the Olympics do points and rankings start become significant, so this is like a dead period

Karen Roberts, British Judo

"Hopefully as they go through to next year they'll start to see the bonuses."

Roberts said 2010 could "potentially" be a tough year as British players attempt to claw their way back from low world rankings, but said the ranking changes had created a "dead period" which British Judo is attempting to exploit.

"If you look at how the world rankings now work, points are only valid for a two-year period," she said.

"Only two years out from the Olympics do points and rankings start to become significant, so this is like a dead period - it's not contributing towards Olympic seeding.

"It may be that British players might have tough draws in their first fights, but you can get that even if you're seeded."

At the Grand Slam in Tokyo, British men's -60kg entrant Ashley McKenzie, with four world ranking points to his name, will face Ukrainian world number one Georgii Zantaraia, who has earned 884 points.

Euan Burton, who reached the last eight at the 2008 Olympics, is seeded 30th in the men's -81kg category and starts his campaign against unseeded Taiwanese player Shu-Ming Lee.

Fellow Beijing Olympian Karina Bryant, the world number 15, faces Kazakhstan's unseeded judoka Zarina Abdrassulova in the women's +81kg category, while Clark, seeded 25th in the women's -57kg category, fights unseeded Pole Paulina Zawadzka.

"I'm going in to win, same as any tournament," said Clark.

"I can beat every player in my category - I've beaten all the top-ranked players even though I've only been in that category for a year, I think I'm really strong. I go in with high expectations of myself."

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see also
Burton leads British gold charge
20 Sep 09 |  Judo
Clark silver 'should inspire GB'
29 Apr 09 |  Olympics
Burton and Fallon's guide to judo
23 May 08 |  Judo

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