While judo's World Championships date back to 1956, and the sport was first included on the Olympic programme at Tokyo 1964, these events were only open to men.
It was not until 1980 that the first Women’s World Championships were held, with New York City acting as host.
Our First Women’s Australian Judo Championship Team consisted of:
· Sue Williams,
· Sue MacDonald (Carew)
· Karin Sheedy
· Kerrye Daniels (Katz)
· Jean Hawkins who travelled with the Team (not a member)
· Carolyn Hamblin
· Mandy Neale
Mandy, who was one of the youngest on the Australian Team had never travelled overseas before and said “It was all very exciting for me, the event was so prestigious and I still mention it to people today. It was just such an achievement; in my opinion it was equivalent to the Olympic Games”.
Before the Championships, Mandy was only a green belt saying “I needed to be graded up to a brown belt by Sue Williams to compete at worlds, I couldn’t go as a green belt. When I came back, my mum said you cannot walk away without a black belt, so I got my black belt when we returned”.
The event ran from November 29 to 30 at the iconic Madison Square Garden, and saw medals awarded across eight different classes.
Carolyn recalled that “It was a beautifully run event and it was absolutely amazing with amazing people. It was awesome to be part of the experience.
Madison Square Garden was huge and it was actually quite overwhelming. It was big, and there were a lot of people, just full on excitement for a young me. I was only young, 17 at the time and it was just a great time of my life”.
Sue Carew said “It was a thrill to be at Madison Square Garden, the home of so many amazing sporting events. A lot of it is a blur now but the atmosphere was exciting and in a way was unbelievable that we were there. It was a privilege and an honour that we had worked hard for”.
The tournament was a landmark event for women's judo, and an important stepping stone on the path to gender equality in the sport.
Sue Williams OAM, now 7th Dan, Olympic Gold Medallist and 3 x Silver Medallist at World Championships said she felt “proud to represent our country, and although it was not my most successful tournament I still reflect on it as one of my most happy times in Judo. We were very aware that Rusty had put so much effort into making "Women's Judo" recognised and how much she fought to give us this opportunity. I will be forever grateful!”
The Women’s World Championships were only possible thanks to the drive and dedication of a woman called Rena Kanokogi, nicknamed Rusty.
Kanokogi was born in New York and developed an early love of martial arts, particularly judo. She organised junior and women’s events in New York and won a case against the Amateur Athletic Union in 1971 when they introduced regulations for women’s competitions restricting the intensity of bodily contact.
Kerrye Katz, who is currently the Junior State and Development Coach for New South Wales and with her husband Rob, run Budokan Judo Club said “these experiences have given me a love for judo and I, with my husband Rob, are still fully committed to the sport”. She said that she really enjoyed “seeing so many female competitors from so many countries and meeting so many new friends and knowing that judo someday soon would be an Olympic sport for women”.