Tokyo Olympics 2021: The Stirling student who is set to make judo history for Trinidad and Tobago

When Gabriella Wood was a young girl at primary school in the Caribbean she was bullied by her classmates due to her large build and being taller than everyone else.

Stirling student Gabriella Wood is the first female judoka to compete at the Olympics for Trinidad and Tobago
Stirling student Gabriella Wood is the first female judoka to compete at the Olympics for Trinidad and Tobago

But now Wood, 23, who won a sports study scholarship to the University of Stirling, is set to make history by becoming the first female judoka to represent Trinidad and Tobago at the Olympics.

Wood, who was due to compete in the 78KG plus heavyweight category at the Tokyo Olympics last year before the global pandemic struck, said the year’s delay and the expertise of her Scottish coaches have put her at her highest level of fitness and psychological readiness ever.

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On her Facebook page on 30 July last year Wood wrote: “It’s absolutely crushing to not to be able to fight and represent my country today, but overcoming the global pandemic is more important right now.”

Gabriella Wood will make history when she sports the colours of her Caribbean island nation in Tokyo

She then quoted the Olympic motto ‘Citius Altius Fortius’ - ‘Faster Higher Stronger’.

Wood is also only the second person to represent her country in judo - following in the footsteps of Christopher George who became the first person to compete for the island nation at the 2016 Olympics.

She will set out for Tokyo on 19 July - 11 days before she is due to compete at the Nippon Budokan the spiritual home of Japanese marital arts.

Wood won silver at the 2015 Pan American Junior Open in Panama and went on to compete in training camps in Mexico and Hungary.

In 2018, Wood, born in Santa Cruz in Trinidad, was visiting relatives in Edinburgh and decided to visit the city’s National Training Centre.

Later, while competing in a team event she was introduced to judo coach Lee Calder who runs the Judo Club Esprit in Alloa, Clackmannanshire.

Calder - who will be accompanying Wood to Tokyo -gave her some pointers and explained how he could help her technique. Wood then decided to start researching sports scholarships in Scotland.

For the past seven months she has also been training with Josh Walsh, the university’s strength and conditioning coach.

Wood, who said she was “delighted and proud” to be representing her country at the Olympics, said: “It’s been a long journey from those days at primary school where I couldn’t understand why people were being so nasty.

“It was when the new principal said new sports were being introduced at the school that I saw judo was a way to get my energy out.

“I just can’t wait to arrive in Japan now and get started. This is undoubtedly the highlight of my career so far and I’m looking forward to pushing myself on the world stage - and hopefully inspire other judoka from Trinidad and Tobago to follow their dreams.

“I’m really excited about competing in the Games but, of course, there’s pressure there too.

“To be the first woman to compete in judo for the Olympics for Trinidad and Tobago is incredible - and everyone back home is really happy for me.

“I am grateful for all the training and support I’ve received from my Lee and from my strength and conditioning coach Josh. They’ve been working hard to help me achieve my potential and we’re so glad that it has now paid off.”

She added: “The sports scholarship has been excellent. It means that I have different staff focusing on me. Someone who knows the science and numbers.

“It has enabled me to focus on my judo while giving me the flexibility to meet my academic requirements.

“It has also allowed me to work closely with Josh in the university’s high performance gym and that had a real positive impact on my physical development and preparation in the run up to the Games.”

Calder said Wood said: “Gabriella has worked hard and tirelessly in pursuit of her goal. This is something that can never be achieved again, but hopefully will inspire other girls that they also can achieve their dreams.

“I am so happy to have been part of her journey. I never thought, when I started coaching judo that I would have the opportunity to coach at an event of this stature - the pinnacle of our sport - and walk a player to the Olympic mat.

“Although the challenge will be hard, it will be a great experience for both Gabriella and myself.

Five other students from the university will compete at the Games - Team GB swimmers Kathleen Dawson, Ross Murdoch, Duncan Scott, Cassie Wild and Aimee Willmott.

David Bond, head of performance at the university, said the university was proud to have six athletes competing in the Games.

“As Scotland’s University for Sporting Excellence, we continue to nurture and develop sporting talent from both home and abroad.

“Gabriella’s qualification is a landmark moment for judo in Trinidad and Tobago and reflects her talent, hard work and dedication. It is also a testament to the robust support she receives through her university sports scholarship and from Lee Calder and his team.

“We are all incredibly proud of Gabriella's achievements and everyone at Stirling will be cheering her on when she takes to the mat in Tokyo later this month.”

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