The last time former World Champion Kayla Harrison from Middletown, Ohio, USA stepped on the judo mat that covers the floor of The Kendal Dojo was August 2nd 2012 when she became the first American to win a Judo Gold Olympic Medal. Stepping back on to the mat at Kendal Judo Club’s 28th Annual Winter Training Camp Kayla said “It made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up and gave me goose bumps all over.” What made the visit even more special was that her opponent in the London ExCel Centre that day, Gemma Gibbons, was among the 80 plus international judo players at the training session as well.
The Club has been running The Winter Training Camp since 1987 and has attracted top players, including World, Olympic, Commonwealth, European and British champions throughout that time. This year’s event, which ran from December 27th to December 30th, was no exception with players from America, Sweden, South Africa, Australia, and Scotland as well as England and Wales taking part in what is considered one of the hardest camps of the year. This is like Chelsea first team turning up at Kendal Town’s football ground for a week’s training.
Indeed that is the attraction. Kayla Cameron from South Africa saw it as learning the hard way what she has to do to win the top medals. Evelina Svenningsson from Halmstadt, Sweden is a regular visitor staying for few weeks at a time prior to competitions. Kayla Harrison was in England with her boyfriend when she heard of the Kendal Camp and immediately decided to come from Camberley, where she had been staying, in order to keep up her training programme for the Rio Olympic Games in 2016. She said the reputation for the hard training at the camp was just what she needed.
Gemma Gibbons is also in full training having just recovered from an injury and enjoyed practising with her Olympic adversary. They have met three times in competition. Once as juniors where Gemma claimed the victory and the two times as seniors that Kayla has won, although both agreed the last meeting was spoiled by a poor refereeing decision. Both women are looking forward to Rio where both are hoping to claim the Gold.