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Thursday, 25 July, 2002, 16:27 GMT 17:27 UK

No joy for English judo

By Mike Burnett
BBC Sport Online in Manchester

England's judo team could not have asked for a more difficult build-up to the Commonwealth Games in Manchester.

Instead of quietly preparing for judo's welcome return to the Games after a 12-year absence, the favourites have been embroiled in a public row over their selection process.

The dispute has now been resolved with Samantha Lowe, instead of Olympic silver medallist Kate Howey, set to represent England in the women's 70kg category.

"I feel disappointed that events outside the competition have played such asevere part in the players' lives."
England manager Barry James

But it is certainly not the best way to prepare for a major tournament, although a defiant Lowe claims to be ready.

"Obviously, it's not ideal preparation for the Games, but I'm here now and I'm going for gold," the 20-year-old said on Thursday.

Of course, Howey has said she feels "stunned and let down" by "inconsistent" England selectors.

Howey, who already has Olympic, World and European medals, was banking on completing the set in Manchester, but doubts over her fitness and form led the selectors to plump for Lowe.

Some have suggested that a fight-off between Howey and the young pretender would have been a better way to resolve the issue.

But Lowe seems to believe it was never really an option.

"I am here now so I guess that has restored my faith in the selection process but I did waver along the line," she explained.

"There was no need for a fight-off, we should rely on the selection process."

Lowe will now be keen to concentrate on issues on the mat rather than off it

Judo team manager Barry James said: "A fight-off would have been an extraordinary thing to happen, something which has never taken place before.

"I feel disappointed that events outside the competition have played such a severe part in the players' lives.

"But although the build-up has been less comfortable than we would have hoped, we are ready to go."

However, not everyone in the England camp has been able to embrace the new spirit.

Winn Bolton, who resigned from her position as women's team coach when Lowe was deselected, has refused to come back.

Replacement Rowena Birch, a 1994 European champion, will have her work cut out for her if she is to put this recent episode behind the team when the judo begins next Tuesday.

Lowe will also have plenty to prove in Manchester, but whether she can help England to match their success of 14 out of 16 gold medals at the Games in Auckland remains to be seen.

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