Judokas just happy to be on Games docket

MATT RICHENS IN GLASGOW
Last updated 03:52 23/07/2014
LAWRENCE SMITH/Stuff.co.nz

The New Zealand judoka team outline their plans for their upcoming events at the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games.

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The New Zealand judo team know what an opportunity the Commonwealth Games is and they're going to make the most of it. 

The sport is only making its third appearance at the Games and first since Manchester in 2002.

Largely self-funded, New Zealand's top judoka travel around the world competing though struggle to get any traction or recognition. 

Far from being bitter, however, they're rapt to be in Scotland and desperate to help put themselves and their sport on the map.

Medals will do that rather nicely.

While some athletes in New Zealand's wider team are used to all the trappings of an event like the Games, the 10 Kiwis in the judo team are lapping the experience up.

Only Tim Slyfield of the current team have been to a Commonwealth Games before and he won the country's last medal, a bronze in Manchester.

Ryan Dill-Russell, a South African-born Aucklander who's ranked No 1 in the Commonwealth, is using the extra support to help him prepare for a shot at New Zealand's seventh Commonwealth Games judo medal and just the country's second gold. 

"It's been awesome in camp, I've been seeing the physios every day for massages and ironing out some of the creases which will help me be at 100 per cent on the day," he said. 

Coach Robert Levy said New Zealand judo practitioners were used to doing without. 

"These are fairly humble people, but they're absolute workers. They're frequently at top events around the world and are largely unsupported. 

"They don't have a physio and frequently at events don't even have their coaches there. Some teams have, physios, coaches, managers, the lot. But for us, this is just great; it's great to be part of the wider New Zealand team with all that encompasses and there's a huge amount of positive energy within the team."

The chance to represent New Zealand, be on TV back home and perform in front of a wider audience was a big motivator. 

"We know how important it is for New Zealanders," Dill-Russell said. 

"So we really want to do our best. And guys like me, who are nearing the end of our careers, we've missed two Games so it's important to put our best foot forward."

Eight of the 10-strong team are ranked inside the top three in the Commonwealth.

However, the rankings themselves aren't entirely accurate with the Oceania championships having the same ranking points as the European and Asian equivalent.

"We all recognise that the actual ranking list is skewed," he said. 

And while the rankings do bring about a chunk of pressure, Levy said the Kiwis were in a win-win situation. 

Being ranked inside the top four can help get a favourable draw.

"In New Zealand we can be tall poppies with expectations and the like. But our guys are pretty much unknown and to Kiwis back home, they're just another New Zealand man or woman with a Silver Fern on their chest and they'll be supporting them. I think we get all the good stuff because Kiwis are passionate about sport and other New Zealanders doing well, but because we're not that well known we don't really have the same expectation and the negative." 

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