Gabriella Wood

FLASHBACK: TTO judoka Gabriella Wood subjects her opponent to a submission hold during competition at the 27th Christophe Maquet Team Tournament in Paris, France, back in 2019. —Photo courtesy BRIAN WOOD

TOP TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO judoka Gabriella Wood earned precious points towards Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games qualification despite early exits in her last two competitions.

Suiting up in the 78-plus kilogramme category for her first international circuit fights after a 13-month absence—mainly due to the Covid-19 pandemic—the 23-year-old Wood first lost to Russia’s Anzhela Gaparian at the March 26-28 Tblisi Grand Slam in Georgia before falling to eventual gold medallist Raz Hershko of Israel (a European Cadet Champion in 2018) at the April 1-3 Antalya Grand Slam hosted by the International Judo Federation (IJF) in Turkey.

For Wood, it was good getting back into competition and executing her strategy and techniques developed in training.

So did the sturdy judoka feel she had to shake off the rust after the enforced pandemic break?

“Not really. I wouldn’t say I felt rusty because I have been training with my training partners and they do push me quite hard, so I didn’t feel rusty,” Wood said. “It was more just the whole feeling of being back in competition area, in front of a referee, fighting somebody else. That was really, really a good feeling to have again. I really did miss that a lot.”

Wood was able to execute her game plan devised in conjunction with her coach, Lee Calder at Judo Club Esprit at her base in Scotland.

“Fight right, stay right, keep moving, stand strong. I was quite happy with that. Even though I did not win the fight I was quite happy with that,” said Wood, nominated as one of the top ten athletes for the 58th First Citizens Sports Foundation Awards.

Wood added Calder and her training partners—Calder’s children Cailin (current British senior champion), Reece (a 2017 European bronze medallist) and Kelsey—were all pleased with her execution.

“They all agreed that that was one of my best performances that I have put on in my career thus far,” she explained. “I am quite hyper-critical of myself and would nit-pick and pick out little things here and there that I didn’t really agree with and (my coach) he will tell me otherwise but that is just me. But they are all quite happy with the performance I put on in Turkey.”

Despite the two losses, the Georgia and Turkey outings have secured her crucial Olympic qualification points to keep the University of Stirling student ahead in the continental quota spot for the Tokyo Games.

It is a good place to be with virtually just two more major events on the IJF world tour calendar—Kazan Grand Slam in Russia (May 5-7) and the IJF World Championships in Budapest, Hungary (June 6-13).

“I was very lucky to have a very strong cardio block leading up to this event so I am actually quite happy with how my cardio was. Really looking to when I get back to Scotland to get in another strong power block and work on my strength, so I will have a meeting with my strength coach and put together a nice power block leading into my next two events,” said Wood.

On the technical side, Wood and coach Calder will maintain focus on her grips and other techniques as well as throwing with power.

“My coach has really been happy with my two performances so I know all the work that we have been doing has really been paying off,” Wood said.

After 13 months out of competition, Wood was just excited to be out on the competition mat,

“I felt that is the place where I belong. It felt right. Everything fell in place. Everything just came naturally on those two days and I am really happy about that,” she concluded.

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