Chelsie Giles collected Great Britain’s first medal of the Tokyo Olympics and revealed afterwards that winning bronze in the country where judo was founded was “extra special”.
The Coventry judoka overcame Macedonia’s Arbresha Rexhepi and Morocco’s Soumiya Iraoui in the women’s -52kg category on Sunday before losing to home favourite and eventual gold medallist Uta Abe at the quarter-final stage.
But the repechage offered the 24-year-old an alternative route to a podium place and she duly grasped the chance, defeating Belgium’s Charline van Snick and then Switzerland’s Fabienne Kocher by Ippon at the Nippon Budokan.
Her debut Games was therefore one to remember for Giles, who bagged her first Grand Slam gold medal in Israel earlier this year, and she believes the achievement is even more unforgettable because it took place in Japan.
“It feels very special to do it in Japan,” she said. “It’s an amazing arena, the atmosphere was amazing and to do it where judo started makes it extra special.
“I felt really good in the warm-up and I was taking each fight as it came. It went really well, I believed that I could do it and my coach has always believed I can do it and it showed in my performances.
“I never underestimate any of my fights, I think that’s when mistakes are made, so I go into the fight knowing what they do and knowing what I’m capable of doing.
“With my best performance I know I can beat some of the top players and my performances showed that.”
It has not been the most auspicious start to a Games for Team GB, with Yorkshire swimmer Max Litchfield going close as he agonisingly finished fourth in the men’s 400 metres individual medley final.
Jade Jones was widely expected to get Britain up and running but the Welsh taekwondo star, the two-time defending champion in her -57kg category, fell to a shock loss in her opening bout with Refugee Team athlete Kimia Alizadeh.
While Giles may not have been tipped by many to get her nation’s first gong, that was not through a lack of skill on her part. Ranked 10th in the world, she showed remarkable composure throughout Sunday.
Most of her family members may be stuck in the UK but she was being cheered on by brother and training partner Josh, who spoke to their father immediately after watching the standout moment of his sibling’s career so far.
“I think my dad’s probably been crying,” Giles added. “My brother just said ‘well done’. He’s proud.
“It’s special because no one else was able to come out so I was still able to have a member of the family here with me. He’s been a very big support and I’m lucky to have him as a brother.”
Giles’ conqueror Abe defeated Italy’s Odette Giuffrida in the semi-final and then France’s Amandine Buchard, the top seed in the final to capture gold, emulating her brother who reigned supreme in the men’s -66kg event on Saturday.
On her only defeat, Giles added: “A small mistake cost me the match, but I was happy with the rest of the performance. She’s a great fighter and well done to her for the final.”