Karen Stevenson (NED) fought in Jerusalem in December and placed 7th at the Masters but just two weeks later she made the firm decision that the end of 2022 was also the end of her -78kg career.

Six Grand Prix medals, a grand slam silver and a Masters bronze were won at the lower weight but from new year 2023, Stevenson would be campaigning at +78kg.

“I decided at the end of 2022, the last day. I called my coach on that day and said I’m going to do it, now!” It has come up in conversation before, being suggested as a positive course of action but Karen wasn’t ready. She’s 29 and so we can say with all respect that there aren’t likely to be many years left at the very top level so it is a brave move.

A contest won in Tel Aviv

“There are still things I want to do in judo, like fight the individuals at the worlds. There have always been three of us in the Netherlands at -78kg and I’ve missed out. I want to fight those big tournaments. At 29 it’s time to do the right things. It was suggested before but I didn’t feel it was right yet.

Mentally I have definitely evolved now and although there is still some mental pressure to deal with against such big girls, on top of the obvious weight disadvantage, I’m already starting to manage them, like with Ozturk (TUR) and Nunes (POR) in Tel Aviv.

It’s the game we want to play. We want to be fast and do good judo. We continue to work on how to throw the bigger girls and win positively. This is the aim. For now I work on winning, however I can, but we are working hard to build the strategies that will enable me to push just a little more and score with my attacks.”

Attacking judo from Stevenson

Karen feels more free already in her new category, to develop her judo within the weight and bring a style that she would love to see as a spectator.

“Maybe I blocked myself from winning as much as I could have in the past and the results didn’t always come at the right moments. The combination of ranking and results for selections didn’t work out for me but it’s me I have to focus on and improve how I work. I can do that in my new situation and I already feel better. To be honest if I’d have moved earlier, I don’t think it would have worked, it’s correct now, in this moment.”

We can’t say she’s wrong! Karen has fought two World Judo Tour events in 2023 and won a bronze at each. That speaks volumes, doubling her career-long grand slam medal tally instantly.

On the podium at the 2023 Tel Aviv Grand Slam

“I feel I want to work on my power so that I can keep the speed without adding too much weight. I needed lots of power to get the sleeve grip off against Zabic (SRB), for example and this power will make a difference.”

Stevenson acknowledges that Zabic has a build more similar to her own and has spent time in the category learning the pace and movement and strategies. At the lighter end of the group, Zabic played a better game than Stevenson in Tel Aviv but the Dutchwoman plans to catch up fast.

“I want to be different in this category and really bring good judo and technique and show that the bigger women have skills that are just as exciting and attractive as in other categories. Keeping my speed is essential.

My first big goal is the worlds in Doha but we will use these first 3 tournaments of the year, one more to go, to discover all we need to be working on. We will make the plan from there and look for a worlds selection.

There are a lot of different and new opponents. I have to learn them and feel them and know how they move. It’s not the same as moving from 70kg to 78kg, a very different situation.

Stevenson in medal-winning form

I am here to focus on me and just get my work done at the tournaments, I’m here to do my thing. There’s still a domestic fight and I don’t underestimate that but I’m only prepared to work on myself and not focus on someone else. I have made a great start and so it’s a good platform to work from and get better.”

Karen Stevenson is on a very positive path and speaks with confidence about her new future. To make big decisions and build a new set of opportunities takes great courage and Stevenson has proven that she is not short of that at all.

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