100 days to Tokyo: Euro Champs are next step on road to Olympics for Team Bath judoka Megan Fletcher after a year like no other
“No athletes have had to qualify for an Olympics during a global pandemic before and I know if I get to Tokyo I will have really achieved something.”
After a qualification period unlike any other, the finish line is coming into sight for Team Bath judoka Megan Fletcher with just 100 days to go until the delayed Tokyo Olympic Games finally get under way.
Her place in the Ireland squad isn’t confirmed yet but she is well placed in the women’s -70kg rankings with just a couple of qualifying competitions still to go – starting with the European Championships which begin on Friday (16th) in Lisbon, Portugal.
After narrowly missing out on competing at London 2012 and Rio 2016, taking to the Olympic mat in Tokyo would be the perfect conclusion to Fletcher’s judo career but getting there will not have been easy.
“It’s been a weird year but it will be worth the craziness if I get to the Olympics,” said Fletcher, who won gold for Team England at the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games before switching to Ireland in 2017.
“I wasn’t sure for much of last year if I would ever get to compete again. Training was suspended and I remember having to practice throws with my boyfriend, who isn’t a judoka, on a mat in my parents’ garden centre while my coach advised over a video call.
“We’ve been able to compete since November but it has taken a while for me to feel comfortable again on the circuit. Covid hasn’t gone away and teams have had to pull out of competitions after positive tests in their camps. We’re also seeing more injuries because people haven’t been able to train properly.
“I’m still not quite firing on all cylinders but as my coach keeps telling me, I just need to be flying on 27th July. Everything else is about getting myself to the Olympics and I am in a good position at the moment.
“I’m currently 23rd in the World rankings but 17th in the Olympic qualification standings and the top 18 earn an automatic place at Tokyo. There are continental qualifier places available too but my goal is to stay in the direct qualification places if possible.”
The next chance to earn valuable points is at the Europeans this weekend but Fletcher, who delayed her decision to retire from the sport after the Olympics were rescheduled, is setting her sights higher in Lisbon.
“These will be my last European Championships and I would love to finish my career with a Euro medal,” she said. “If I have a good day I know I can be on the podium but I need to have a good day.
“After that there is a six-week gap to the World Championships, then another seven weeks to the Olympics – all the big competitions are coming at once after going so long without one and I will keep fighting to the end.”
While Fletcher continues her Olympic build-up, brother Ben – a fellow Team Bath and Ireland judoka – is continuing his recovery from a broken leg sustained while competing in Israel in February.
“It’s obviously not what we wanted five months out from an Olympics but he is recovering so well and hopefully he will be able to fight in Tokyo,” she added.
“I don’t know how he is so tough. When it happened there was no negativity, he was just immediately focussed on getting fit in time for Tokyo. He is so mentally strong.”