WORDS: Jo Cabot
PHOTOGRAPHY: Danny Evans

From left to right: Aiden Ward, Kyle Le Mottee, Charlie Tromans, Bill Baker, Will Moir, Mike Bisson, Eduardo “Eddie” Afonso, Mike Canas, Vladimiro “Miro” Afonso

Last August the Jersey Sport Foundation (JSF) facilitated an innovative partnership between Jersey Judo and Brazilian Power Team (BPT) to recruit a judo squad that could be competitive at the NatWest Gibraltar 2019 Island Games and beyond. The partnership “Fight4Gold” resulted  in six Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) athletes joining the current four Judo athletes and enabled Jersey to present the second largest team for Judo at the games and achieving three medals. But, this was only part of the story…

The innovative project was based on international examples of best practice. Small nations have utilised the concept of ‘Talent Transfer and Identification’ to intelligently map athletes into sports to strengthen their ability to perform at a high level. Readers may be familiar with athletes such as Helen Glover (Rowing), Lutalo Muhammad (Taekwondo) and Lizzy Yarnold (Skeleton) who are all effective examples. Jersey has a strong BJJ scene, and with partners BPT having a fantastic array of athletes with transferable skills, it made sense to combine forces. BPT athletes learnt to adapt their skills and the current judokas were provided with an enhanced training environment. From a lot of hard work and sharing of knowledge in just  9 months of training, the new Jersey Judo squad was ready for their Island Games campaign.

The experienced and new judokas came together to pressurise national and international level black belts and secured victories against seasoned athletes. A highlight was a red belt (one step up from white belt) securing a medal amongst a sea of black belts (the highest competitive grade). The Jersey team was known as the ‘rainbow team’ due to the variety of belt colours.

Head Coach Mike Bisson reports, “The Island Games was a fantastic experience and after competing in 2009, I didn’t believe the opportunity would come around again. The preparation and enthusiasm in the build-up was second to none. The entire squad gelled really well and it was a joy to train with them. I had no concern putting any of my athletes against any opponent, and had complete confidence in every single one of them. I believe three bronze medals, the first for Jersey Judo at an Island Games in 24 years is a momentous achievement.”

John Scriven from JSF says “It shows what a little bit of innovative thinking, open mindedness, teamwork and communication can do. The JSF have proven this with their two successful projects; Fight4Gold and Power2Podium (female Olympic Weightlifting). This is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of what can be achieved and we have some exciting projects coming up that build on the success. These athletes have laid down a blue print for other sports to breathe new life and create an environment where success is planned because of the system, not despite it.”

A special mention must go to experienced judoka and active competitor, captain Bill Baker. He won a gold medal in 1995 and made an excellent comeback this year retrieving a bronze medal 24 years later.