Can Szandra make judo history for Ghana today?

SzandraHISTORY has already been made at the ongoing Rio Olympics as all of Ghana’s 16 athletes at the Games are launching their debut appearances.

But for a sparkling-looking Szandra Szogedi, the feeling to represent Ghana on such momentous platform is so huge as she looks forward to battling her way to Olympic greatness

in the 63kg category of the women’s judo competition at the Olympic Training Centre in Barra da Tijuca, this afternoon.

Szogedi is the first-ever female judoka to represent Ghana and she would love to make the most of it when she comes face-to-face with Brazil’s Mariana Silva in the Round of 32 stage

at 1pm local time.

The Brazilian middleweight has been described as a formidably tough opposition for the Ghanaian, and she has an intimidating record to match that proclamation.

Silva won bronze at the Pan American Games in Toronto in 2015; clinched a few World Cups starting in 2014 in Buenos Aires and prolonged that title in 2015. Last year, too, she annexed the World Military Games in Mungyeong, after winning silver at the Grand Prix earlier.

However, the Hungarian-born Szandra earned a continental quota spot from the African region as Ghana’s top-ranked judoka outside of direct qualifying position in the IJF World Ranking List of May 30, 2016.

Doubtless, the 26-year-old Brazilian will be a mammoth customer for the Budapest-born Ghanaian, but the Chief Press Officer of the Ghana Olympic Committee (GOC), Erasmus Quao, describes the fight as 50-50.

“The Brazilian is a really tough judoist but I can foresee a 50-50 fight on the day,” he told the Times Sports yesterday.

It is reported that Szogedi started judo at age 11, after a friend of her father recommended the sport. With a background in gymnastics, Szogedi adapted quickly to the dynamic flips and groundwork characteristic of the Japanese martial art.

After just six months, Szogedi won a silver medal at Hungary’s national championships.

“I was hooked,” she told the Associated Press in a recent interview.

“I loved winning medals and started to think this might be the sport for me.” Szogedi began attending a specialised sports school and qualified for the national judo squad.

But after her parents divorced in 2007, money was tight and Szogedi was forced to drop judo. She moved to the U.K. shortly afterwards and began working as a waitress in a London hotel. One afternoon, as she watched the opening ceremonies for the Beijing Olympics with friends at a pub, she saw one of her former Hungarian judo teammates walk into the Bird’s Nest stadium.

“I had the feeling that I had some unfinished business,” Szogedi said. She soon started training again at a London judo club, where she met her future husband, a Ghana-born engineer.

After securing her Ghanaian passport through him, Szogedi began competing for the West African country at major judo tournaments and narrowly missed out on qualifying for the

2012 London Olympics. Szogedi has been to Ghana once to meet her husband’s family and says she was overwhelmed by the welcome she received.

Ahead of her trip to the Rio Games, Szogedi pitched camp in south of London and trained alongside several members of Britain’s national team. The regimen was particularly aimed at

sharpening her fight strategy and in particular, working on being more aggressive in controlling her matches by getting a dominant grip on her opponents’ uniforms.

Although she is among the shorter competitors in her 63-kilogramme weight division, her coach says that could work to her advantage.

“She has a great ability to get underneath other players and score some big throws,” said Luke Preston, Szogedi’s coach at the Camberley judo club and also a national coach for the British team.

Though Szogedi is ranked 40th in the world, Preston said that matters little in the combat sport.

By John Vigah, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

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