Comm Games: Judo team to test rankings

By Kris Shannon in Glasgow

Three of New Zealand's highly-rated judo team, Ivica Pavlinic, Moira de Villiers and Ryan Dill-Russell. Photo / Greg Bowker
Three of New Zealand's highly-rated judo team, Ivica Pavlinic, Moira de Villiers and Ryan Dill-Russell. Photo / Greg Bowker

If the judo programme at the Commonwealth Games were fought on paper, the sport could emerge as one of New Zealand's most successful.

But coach Robert Levy has bad news for any fans expecting a distinctly golden haul from the 10-strong team in Glasgow.

A trio of Kiwi judoka - Ryan Dill-Russell, Jason Koster and Darcina Manuel - are heading into this week's event ranked No 1 in the Commonwealth, while a further five find themselves inside the top three.

Looks can be deceiving, though, as Levy explained. Whether it was a genuine sentiment, a ploy to lessen the pressure on the athletes sitting beside him, or an attempt to temper expectations among the public, Levy felt those rankings lied.

"It's absolutely misleading," he said. "I think we all recognise that the actual ranking list is skewed."

Levy's reasoning was two-fold. First, the Kiwi competitors were given an unsubstantiated boost, ranking-wise, by the continental-closed tournaments where they fought against a relatively-weakened Oceania region.

"New Zealand is part of Oceania and when each of these athletes won the Oceania champs, they got the same number of points that the European champion got, the Asian champion got," Levy said.

Then there is the sheer nature of the Commonwealth Games. As opposed to the Olympics and world championships and other events where athletes earn ranking points, the Games in Glasgow feature, of course, a fractured Great British team.

"While we have got the right people here, there are a number of events that all contribute to the ranking," Levy said. "In some events there would be only one British player, as opposed to each of the home nations."

With all that said, however, the coach admitted it would be a "massive disappointment" if the team failed to return with some medals, especially considering there were certain advantages to being on the top of the pile heading into the Games.

After all, having a top-three ranking may put a target on an the Kiwis' backs but it also leaves them in ideal position to avoid being hunted down, helping with a draw in which there are only four seeded judokas.

"In most international events there are eight seeded players," Levy said. "With only four seeded players, to be that far up the ranking list certainly means that each of these athletes will be seeded.

"In fact, I think we've only got two or three athletes of the 10 who won't be seeded in the top four. So it's a fantastic advantage."

One of those enjoying such an advantage, Dill-Russell acknowledged the benefits and burdens and being in the top spot in the 90kg and under division. In what will likely be his last Games - with Judo off the programme in 2018 - the 30-year-old Aucklander was hopeful of bowing out of Commonwealth competition on a high.

"It's always nice to be on top, I guess, but with that there's a bit of pressure," he said. "But we're just trying to keep it real here. We've performed for many years now and it's about putting in the best performance on the day.

"I know the people I'm fighting against - I've competed against them with success in the past. I'm in good shape and hopefully can pull it out on the day."

- APNZ

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