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Stratford Judo Club teenager Hayley Willis sets sights on Rio

PUBLISHED: 12:55 21 November 2013 | UPDATED: 12:55 21 November 2013

Hayley Willis (third from left) with her bronze medal

Hayley Willis (third from left) with her bronze medal

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Stratford Judo Club teenager Hayley Willis has set her sights on the Rio Olympics after clinching her first senior judo world medal in Mauritius.

She claimed bronze in the under-48kg category at the African Judo Open and was delighted to have the unexpected medal around her neck.

The Jo Richardson sixth form student said: “I’m really happy with the result. I wasn’t expecting to medal, all I was hoping to do was put in a good performance and gain some experience.

“But my coach prepared me really well and it gives me a great springboard to the future.”

The 17-year-old trailed team-mate Kimberley Renicks, who claimed silver and the winner, Guinea-Bissau’s Taciana Lima.

Next on the agenda is the British Championships in Sheffield on December 14 and 15, where Hayley will be competing in both the junior and senior competitions.

She is looking to represent England in next year’s Glasgow Commenwealth Games, but further in the distance, she dreams of being in the British squad for the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.

Willis, who took up judo aged five, will find out if she has made the Commonwealth Games team by April.

“I went to the senior European Judo Championships last year and I really want to compete against the world’s best. Going to Rio would be a dream, but I know I need to keep working hard,” she said. “In the British championships, I’m looking to win gold in the juniors and medal in the seniors. Two golds would be great.”

The teenager is currently studying for her A levels at Jo Richardson Community School in Dagenham, and is grateful for their flexibility in allowing her to travel to compete.

But her jet-setting lifestyle can turn some of her friends green with envy, depending on where she goes.

“Sometimes they get a bit jealous if I go to nice warm places like Mauritius,” admits Willis.

“But they know it’s not always somewhere like that. I recently went to Slovakia for the Junior World Championships (she came fifth), which was not quite so glamourous.”

In the immediate future, Hayley wants to complete her studies before becoming a full-time judoka.

She hopes that another senior win will get her some low-level funding to help her progress her career.

Hayley is the latest in the long line of people in the Willis family to be judokas, and she is hoping that pedigree will take her all the way to the top.

When she won the Senior British Closed Championships in January 2012, the then-British Judo performance director, Daniel Lascau, explained what high hopes the federation have for her.

He said: “I’m very pleased with Willis because she confirmed her ability at this level. She’s a very good judoka.”


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