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A rollercoaster career that almost came to an end six years ago provided another silver lining for Gemma Howell after coming up just short of Commonwealth Games gold.
The 32-year-old from Stafford lost by Ippon to Canadian Catherine Beauchemin-Pinard in the women’s -63kg final at Coventry Arena, after the contest went to a golden score.
It was the second time the two fighters have been locked in an epic showdown this year, with Howell claiming the victory back in February in the semi-final of the Tel Aviva Grand Slam.
But having overcome a series of injuries to contest her first Commonwealth Games, after missing out on Glasgow 2014 due to a knee injury, Howell took comfort in her silver medal
“We’ve fought already this year and it went to eight minutes, so I always knew it was going to be a close fight,” said Howell, who dropped down to 63kg from 70kg after the Tokyo cycle, and who is one of over 1,100 elite athletes on UK Sport’s National Lottery-funded World Class Programme, allowing them to train full time, have access to the world’s best coaches and benefit from pioneering technology, science and medical support.
“It’s always been neck and neck – last time it was my turn, this time she got the win. I’d have preferred it at the Commonwealths, but I tried my best.”
Howell has undergone a remarkable ten operations during her career in the pursuit of glory, with one neck procedure in 2018 even coming with the disclaimer of potential paralysis.
The two-time Olympian even considered quitting her sport during her injury hell but showed her potential by claiming gold at this year’s European Championships for her first major title.
And the chance to fight in front of a home crowd again at Birmingham 2022 was an experience Powell treasured, beating Welsh judoka Jasmine Hacker-Jones and Australia’s Katharina Haecker to set up her chance at finishing on the top step of the podium.
“It was like an extra pair of lungs,” added Howell, who dropped down weight categories on the advice of her coach and sport science team, when asked about the crowd.
“I don’t think you can picture how amazing it’s going to be, but it really gives you those goosebumps and drive to do better. It makes it all worthwhile. My career has been a rollercoaster.
“I thought I’d quit in 2016 and I don’t know how I managed to keep going, but I did. I couldn’t be more grateful to those who kept me going as this year I’ve ticked off three of my career goals.”
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