NAME: Gabriella Wood
EVENT: JUDO (+78kg)
OLYMPIC EXPERIENCE: Debut
KEY ACHIEVEMENTS: Silver at 2019 Scottish Open Championships (Glasgow) and 2015 Pan American Junior Open (Argentina), bronze at 2016 Junior PJC Cup (Dominican Republic) and US Junior Olympic International (Dallas, Texas); fifth at 2019 Copa Panamericano (Panama) and seventh at the Celje-Podcetrtek Senior European Cup (Slovenia)
Gabriella Wood begins her trek to the Olympic Games on Monday and will be joined by Scottish father/son coaching team Lee and Cailin Calder.
The 23-year old is TT’s first female judoka to qualify for the Summer Games and only the nation’s second athlete to achieve the feat in this discipline.
On June 23, Wood secured a Tokyo spot via the Olympic ranking continental quota in the Pan American region. She makes her debut on July 30 in the +78kg category at the Nippon Budokan, the “spiritual home” of Japanese martial arts.
The national judoka is currently in Scotland finalising preparations ahead of the meet. There are some nerves, she said, but Wood plans to take it one match at a time. Opponents are tentatively scheduled to be drawn on July 22 or 23.
“The plan was always, going into the Games, to see how it goes and try to win a match. We’re not aiming for a medal. I know a lot of people believe that once you qualify for the Olympics you can get a medal.
“But I don’t think they fully understand the kind of work that actually goes into qualifying for an Olympics, much less medalling,” Wood said.
The Santa Cruz-bred athlete began was introduced to judo at Maria Regina Grade School in Port of Spain but got seriously involved in the sport at St Joseph’s Convent in Port of Spain. She then began training under Mark Littrean at the Queen’s Park Judo Club followed by then-national judo coach Jesus Chavez.
Wood competed at a few local tournaments and then bagged her first major medal with a silver showing at the 2015 Pan American Junior Open in Panama.
The very next year she battled to bronze at the 2016 Junior PJC Cup (Dominican Republic) and US Junior Olympic International (Dallas, Texas). She then earned silver at 2019 Scottish Open Championships (Glasgow).
Looking ahead at the biggest competitive challenge of her still blossoming career, Wood wants to keep clear head.
“I’m still quite young in the sport and I haven’t been on the senior circuit for that long, just about four years. I’m still quite new to it so my take on it (Olympics) is to go out, enjoy the experience, do the best I can and focus on one fight at a time.
“I’m just trying to chill right now. I’ve done the work. I know my sport. It’s just to go out there and do what I do best. I’m looking at it like any other judo trip because if I start to think about it too much I’ll start to get nervous,” she added.
Wood said the love for her sport and the encouragement by her coach and training partners, on both good and bad days, serve as her greatest motivation.
In a recent interview with the University of Stirling, coach Lee credited Wood’s dedication and commitment to her sport
“The achievement of qualifying for the Olympic Games is a fantastic result for Gabriella; she has worked hard and tirelessly in pursuit of her goal.
“I am so happy to have been a part of Gabriella's journey – we have built a good relationship over the time that I have been her coach and I’m so proud of her.
“I never thought, when I started coaching judo that I would have the opportunity to coach at an event of this stature – the pinnacle of our sport – and walk a player to the Olympic mat. Although the challenge will be hard, it will be a great experience for both Gabriella and myself,” said Lee.
Being the first female athlete to represent TT in this sport at the Olympics is a title she believes carries great duty. Wood wants to use this opportunity to help pave a pathway for younger TT athletes, particularly females, and to be an example for upcoming judokas.
After capturing her first international medal in 2015, Wood graduated from school in 2016 and then headed to Mexico for a one-month training camp. She stayed and trained for two additional months.
In 2018, she left TT and travelled to Hungary to further her craft at the International Judo Federation Olympic Training Centre. At year’s end, Wood visited family in Scotland, did a couple of training sessions there and went on to secure a partial sport scholarship at the University of Sterling for a Bachelor in sport studies.
Since then, she has joined forced with the father/son combination of Lee, Cailin and Reece Cadler.
“Judo has now become my life, more or less. I made a lot of friends and been to a lot of different places because of this sport. It’s become my life and I really wouldn’t have it any other way.
“The reality is yes, you can become good at judo in Trinidad. My coach always tells me that I’m one of the most technically sound judokas but I lack that competition level experience, training and fights, that were unavailable to me in the Caribbean,” she added.
Having spent the past three years in Scotland, Wood remains hopeful that she can return to TT in December to enjoy a good doubles and ‘Trini’ Christmas following her debut at the Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan.
The Games gets under way from July 23 to August 8.