Southgate sisters shine at the English Junior and Senior Open for Kumo Judo Club
Lopham and Diss-based Kumo Judo Club head coach Howard Oates believes that he has a future Olympian on his hands in the form of Niamh Southgate.
The 14-year-old serial winner both at home and abroad added two more gold medals to her collection at the weekend with a string of victories at the English Junior and Senior Open, which was held in Thetford.
In some of her fights Southgate gave away five years to her opponents, but that did not stop her from coming out on top.
“I should first of all say that the senior event was poorly attended and a lot of the players involved had switched over from the junior event,” said Oates.
“But she gave away five years to two of the girls she beat which makes it a ridiculous achievement – they were both national medalists as well.”
Oates is well versed when it comes to the standard of judo at the Olympics Games having seen his son Colin compete at London 2012 and then again in Rio de Janeiro four years later.
Colin never managed to win a medal on the biggest stage – his best performance was a seventh-placed finish in 2012 – but Oates senior feels that Southgate could end up challenging for prizes at the top level.
“If we can keep her in the game she might well just make it to the Olympics,” he added.
“As a coach I have had players win medals at all the major events except the Olympics so it would be great if she could eventually change that.
“It is always very much early days when they are 14 years of age because when they get to 16 some players find different interests and give up the sport.
“But Niamh has got what it takes. She has a fantastic attitude and never gets nervous before she competes.
“She is as much on target for an Olympic medal as Colin was at this stage and I would probably say she is a better prospect than him at the same age.
“The next Olympics in 2020 will almost certainly be too soon but the next one in Los Angeles four years later is a genuine opportunity.”
Southgate’s double success made her the first since Kumo Judo Club player to win gold at an English Open since Colin in 2017, with the former Olympian on hand to present the medals to his successor.
And Niamh was not the only member of the Southgate to be competing at the event, which overall attracted more than 200 competitors.
Fifteen-year-old sister Eden was in the same under-52k category and ended up collecting two bronze medals, having lost to her younger sibling along the way.
“Eden was so close to getting her black belt – all she needed was one more win,” added Oates.
“She beat a couple of decent players and can be very pleased with her performance.
“Like Niamh her results means she now has a senior ranking and that means I will be able to blood them both at more senior events when the time is right.”
Next month Niamh will head overseas to compete in Europe while black belt-hunting Eden will go in search of the final 10 points she needs for promotion to Dan grade status.