GABRIELLA Wood’s qualification to the Olympic Games in Tokyo has been fuelled by over five years of travel and training across the globe.
On Tuesday, the 23-year-old became TT’s first female judoka to qualify for the Games and the nation’s second athlete to achieve the feat in this discipline. At the 2016 Games in Brazil, Christopher George was the first national to secure Olympic qualification in the sport.
Wood qualified via the Olympic ranking continental quota in the Pan American region. The continental quota means that she (278 points) was one of the next two top athletes who fell just short of automatically qualifying in the +78kg category.
Currently based in Scotland, she received the exciting news from one of her training partners.
“It’s unreal. It hasn’t even fully sunken in as yet. I don’t think it will for a little while to come. It’s been a long journey and a lot of sacrifices. I was teaching a class at the time and my training partner came in told me I qualified for the Games.
“I didn’t really believe him because I know the Olympic list wasn’t supposed to come out until Wednesday. So I had to stop and go and check for myself. It’s unreal,” she said.
The International Judo Federation posted the Olympic ranking lists on Tuesday and it showed those who automatically qualified and those who qualified via the continental quota.
“We’ve (coach and training partners) been preparing for this. It’s not like we said we were going to wait until they officially say we’re going (to the Olympics) to kick the threshold up now. It’s just to continue along as we’re going. The hard work is paying off,” she added.
Wood trains in Scotland alongside a father/son team of Lee (father), Cailin and Reece Calder.
She was born and raised in Santa Cruz and was introduced to judo at Maria Regina Grade School in Port of Spain. In and out of judo classes, she began to take the sport seriously in form three at Holy Name Convent in Port of Spain.
The grappler joined Queen’s Park Judo Club and began training under Mark Littrean. She was then introduced to then-national judo coach Jesus Chavez, who inspired her to keep pushing on.
Wood competed at a few local tournaments and then broke on to the international circuit when she earned silver at the 2015 Pan American Junior Open in Panama.
In 2016, she graduated and continued to pursue her craft. One year later, she headed to Mexico for a one-month training camp.
“The coach there was happy with my work ethic; the way and how I trained. So I stayed on for two more months. I went to Hungary in early 2018 for six months to prepare for the Central American and Caribbean Games,” she said.
Wood then returned to Hungary to prepare for any additional upcoming tournaments. There, she trained at the International Judo Federation Olympic Training Centre.
At the end of 2018, she travelled to Scotland to visit family. She did a couple of training sessions at the national training centre and enjoyed it.
“I eventually got a partial sport scholarship for the University of Sterling for my Bachelor in sport studies. Eventually, it all just worked out. I took the last four years away from school to focus on judo and now I’m going back to school,” she added.
On her chances at the Games, she said, “No judo tournament is easy. Judo is one of the most unpredictable sports and anything can happen on the day.”
She also thanked her parents, my club and club members at Queen’s Park and Scotland-based coach and his sons for their commitment to making her achieving an Olympic spot.
TT Judo Federation Reinaldo Novoa jr also expressed elation with Wood’s historic qualification.
“We are proud of her. She has done this entire journey mainly on her own speed. We (federation) have been suffering through these covid19 times. As a result, we’ve only been able to give as much as we could have.
“We have other athletes as well to see about, keep ourselves afloat and our clubs. But we look forward to great things in the Olympics from her,” he said.
Last Tuesday, she competed at the Judo World Championships in Hungary but was ousted by Russian opposition.
Some of Wood’s highlighted performances on the floor came over the past six years. In 2016, she bagged bronze at the Junior PJC Cup in the Dominican Republic.
In 2018, the judoka was seventh at the Celje-Podcetrtek Senior European Cup and then battled to silver, in March last year, at the Bariloche Panamerican Open.
Additionally, Novoa jr added that the local federation will be sending out an official statement on Wood’s qualification on Wednesday.