I can’t actually look at the photos of Gemma Gibbons whispering ‘I love you mum’ after she won the silver medal in the 78kg judo category without tearing up a bit. This courageous young woman was 17 when her mother died from leukemia. Gemma – who went to her first judo class age six – refused to give up on her dream of competing in an Olympic Games in her home town, and took on a part time job as a receptionist in a leisure centre while also juggling her studies and judo training.
In the final she eventually lost to the American Kayla Harrison, but was absolutely delighted with her silver medal. Her strength and skill were awe-inspiring and so I was completely flummoxed by an article that asked “is women fighting each other violently a perfectly wholesome spectator sport?” and fretted over Gemma and Kayla’s “soft limbs battered black and blue with bruises.” I don’t know where to begin unpicking the spectacular and patronising sexism in those lines (let alone the rest of the article) so I won’t bother. I think it’s pretty obvious that Gemma and her fellow female competitors are incredible athletes who have mastered the complex art of judo and nothing like “two drunken women bashing ten bells out of each other” (seriously).
Like Tom Daley, who lost his father to cancer last year, and Nicola Adams, who worked a series of jobs to fund her boxing training, and battled injury to reach the Games, Gemma Gibbons is one of those tenacious young athletes who deserve huge admiration and success for overcoming immense challenges and turning adversity into motivation. Before London 2012 Gemma had said “My mum was always my biggest supporter, so I want to win not only for myself, but for her as well” and she certainly honoured her memory.
Picture Credit: Rex Features