London 2012: Gemma Gibbons, a profile of a judo star

Watching Gemma Gibbons break down in tears after guaranteeing a first Olympic medal in judo for 12 years, it was clear to see just how much it meant to the 25-year-old.

Eight years ago, Gibbons lost her mother, Jeanette, to leukaemia.

After securing a -78kg semi-final win over world champion Audrey Tcheumeo, Gibbons slumped to her knees, before standing, looking to the sky and mouthing: "I love you, mum."

It was a highly emotional and fitting memorial to Jeanette, who encouraged her daughter to take up the sport at their local judo club when she was just six years old.

Gibbons went on to lose in the final to American Kayla Harrison, but it mattered not, with silver having already surpassed the expectations of many.

The result for the London-born judoka is all the more impressive given that she was not competing in her first-choice weight category.

Gibbons missed out on a place in the -70kg category after suffering a first-round exit at the Euros, forcing her to change her plans for London 2012.

Nevertheless, Gibbons was always confident she could achieve success in London, stating: "If I fight the best fight I can, I could come away with a medal."

She was not wrong.

Gibbons quickly showed a proficiency in the sport, winning her first gold medal aged only 16 at the British National Junior Age Championships.

One year later, though, she had to deal with her mother's death.

It would have been understandable for Gibbons to turn her back on judo after such a traumatic event. Indeed, all at Blackheath Metro Judo Club were waiting with baited breath to see whether she would quit.

But she chose to continue and marked her comeback by finishing fifth at the Junior European Championships in Croatia in 2005.

Gibbons made the step up to senior level the following year and continued to enjoy success, winning silver at the Senior Women's Cup in Denmark - a result that saw her selected to represent Great Britain at the World University Championships in the South Korean capital Seoul, where she managed a highly creditable fifth place.

She was recognised for her impressive form in 2006 by winning the Radio London Young Sports Woman of the Year Award, while her coaches described her as "one of Britain's best medal hopes for judo".

Buoyed by her success that year, Gibbons made a great start to 2007 with gold at the British University Championships.

By 2009, she had climbed to third in the European rankings for her age group after winning silver at the Swedish Open and bronze at the Under-23 European Championships.

Last year, Gibbons won gold at the Orenburg European Cup and had planned to compete at this year's Olympics in the -70kg weight category, but lost out to Sally Conway in the selection battle.

Fortunately, she had competed in a couple of competitions in the -78kg category to gain more experience, with victory at the British Open qualifying her for London 2012.

Despite nursing a shoulder injury, Gibbons impressed from the outset at the Olympics, battling past Yahima Ramirez of Portugal, Mongolia's Lkhamdegd Purevjargal, the seventh seed, then beating Dutchwoman Marhinde Verkerk in her quarter-final before overcoming Tcheumeo.

Though Gibbons lost out to Harrison in the final, silver was still a superb achievement.

Kate Howey, who now coaches Gibbons, was the last British judoka to win a medal, taking silver in 2000 - and the performances of Gibbons will have undoubtedly lifted a British squad that has struggled in London.

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