Chelsie Giles in celebratory mood after winning Team GB's first medal in Tokyo

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·4-min read
Chelsie Giles in celebratory mood after winning Team GB's first medal in Tokyo
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Chelsie Giles dabbles in amateur photography but couldn't have staged the scene of her triumph, Team GB's first medal at Tokyo 2020, any better.

The judoka threw Swiss Fabienne Kocher for ippon to take -52kg bronze and simultaneously shed the first medal monkey off her nation's back.

She did so in the spiritual home of the sport, Nippon Budokan, and for an athlete who only made her senior international debut in 2017, it was a dream come true.

"I'm in shock, very happy. I don't know how to describe the feeling," said the 24-year-old.

"I believed I could do it, my coach has always believed I could and it showed in today's performance.

"It feels very special to do it in Japan. It's an amazing arena and the atmosphere was amazing. To do it where Japan started the sport, it makes it extra special."

After her shock first-round defeat, Jade Jones spoke of how sorely she missed her family, that she calls 'Team Crazy', roaring her on in the Olympic arena.

Giles was one of the few athletes in the whole Games to be able to celebrate at the scene of their triumph with a close relative.

Her brother, Josh, who she joined at Coventry Judo Club when she was eight and he was five, is in Japan as her training partner and was there to toast her when she left the mat.

"It's so special to have him out here," said Giles, who will be the envy of many a homesick Olympian.

"None of the rest of my family were able to come out, but he's been a very good source of support. I'm lucky to have him.

"He'd just been on the phone to my Dad, who was crying, when I saw him. He told me how proud he was of me..

"We've always sparred since we were little and been competitive, that's made us both better.

"We're really close now, we get on really well. When he's at his next competition I'll be there to support him too."

Giles also treasures her relationship with lockdown housemate Nekoda Smythe-Davis, who didn't join her at the Games having suffered ongoing effects of a concussion.

The pair were a rare ray of light in each other's lives during lockdown and crucially, the only source of sparring.

"We locked down together and got judo mats in our house, but there wasn't much room!" she said.

"We weren't always able to do judo so we were doing sessions over Zoom, it was hard to keep that motivation. It was tough but it taught us to be more resilient.

"Nekoda's one of my closest friends, she's supported me through this although she wasn't able to be in Tokyo. I can't thank her enough."

British judokas have now produced medals at each of the last three Games, with Giles following in the footsteps of Gemma Gibbons, Karina Bryant and Sally Conway.

It's not a stretch to say she wouldn't have done so had the Games been held in 2020.

The European Games bronze medallist has squeezed every ounce of benefit from an extra year's preparation.

"I've built my confidence up this year and having this extra year has given me time to focus on my judo," said Giles.

"There's been a lot of stuff happening in the world and judo's been the one thing that's constant."

She won Grand Slam gold in Tel Aviv in February and silver in Tblisi a month later, an upturn she puts down to a mental switch that flicked in early 2020, when she realised she wasn't making the most of her talent.

"A year ago, I'd have said she wasn't quite ready," was how Britain's most recognisable judoka, Neil Adams, put it.

When the moment came, she certainly was.

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