Nekoda Davis vowed to come back stronger after narrowly losing her round of 16 fight on a single yuko against Automne Pavia of France. She said: “I gave it everything in that match. I knew Pavia was going to be a tough fight and the rest of my day was going to be hard as well.”
After a strong start from Nekoda it was the French judoka who took the lead with a big throw for yuko. Pavia was forced to pick up three shidos but despite increased pressure from Nekoda it was the French judoka who came out on top.
“You get beaten on the day, that’s just the way it is,” she said. “You’ve got to come back stronger, fitter. I 100% believe my day will come. I know I will be world champion, European champion and, hopefully, Olympic champion one day.”
She started her day with a very controlled and impressive winning performance over the highly experienced Sabrina Filzmoser of Austria, as she opened her first Olympic Games with a yuko followed by a nice counter that added a waza-ari to her score.
Despite her disappointment, Nekoda believes she has the edge over her competition rivals in one particular way: “There’s definitely no one here who I think is as mentally strong as I am.”
Her mental strength has been the driving force behind her success in Judo, and continues to push her towards her ultimate goals. Ever since her childhood growing up in Cricklewood in London she has had to stay focused despite the challenges which have come her way.
She said: “I knew that I would have to put the work in in life to make something of myself and not be poor. So it really comes from that … Really the reason I got into judo is that it was the cheapest thing to do, growing up. I found it really hard to deal with that, to not have all the same things as my friends or not be able to go to dance lessons or learn a different language or play an instrument.”
“If you work hard and you stay on the path you will get there eventually. All the knockbacks are just making it even harder for you to get there but, when you do get there, it will be even more rewarding,”
Just four years ago Nekoda was working as a volunteer at the London Olympics. Working in the administration centre, she took the opportunity whenever she could to sneak off and see some of her favourite Judokas in action. After the Games she decided against going to university after being offered the chance to train with British Judo at the Centre of Excellence in Walsall.
In sharp contrast to the big names from high profile sports such as athletics or golf, Nekoda has always been delighted just to receive enough national lottery funding to cover her basic costs. “It means I can afford to pay for my rent and my food and just focus on my training, which is perfect really, coming from when I worked three jobs when I left school to being in the position I am now.”
Despite the challenges, her determination has ensured people believe her ambition. Before entering professional judo, Nekoda worked a variety of jobs including babysitting, teaching judo and working in a sushi shop, which luckily gave her employers who were happy to help her judo career.
“Judo is a Japanese sport and they loved the fact I did judo and gave me time off work and would change the rotas around to suit my competition plan,” she said.
She is adamant that Rio is not the end but the beginning. “This is a stepping stone to Tokyo for me.”