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19960813_Laurie Pace's participation at Olympics

    I believe that I ought to give some information on Laurie Pace's participation in the Atlanta Olympic Games. The public deserves an explanation. 
    First of all, it is the National Olympic Committee who accepts to nominate an athlete for the Olympic Games, first on national qualifying standards, then according to their respective IF standards.
    Starting from the Barcelona Olympic Games, the IOC demanded that the international federation make a qualification system for judoaks to participate in the Olympic Games.
    On behalf of the International Judo Federation, the past president, Mr Luis Bagena, and my predecessor Francois Besson, sports director of the International Judo Federation, proposed that all entries were to be holders of minimum 1st Dan (black belt) and these should have participated in a continental championship or two intercontinental competitions. In Barcelona, following this qualification, there were 435 entries. Malta sent two judokas - Jason Trevisan and Laurie Pace.
    The Atlanta Olympic Games have marked the first Games where to take part in judo, athletes also had to qualify. The qualifications for the Atlanta Olympic Games were the same as for Barcelona, that is, they had to be minimum 1st Dan (black belt) and that they had participated in a European championship or two intercontinental championships but they also had to qualify through their Union's rank list.
    The system was:
    - the first eight places in the world championships per weight category.
    - one per weight category for the host country (USA).
    - a quota per union ( the quota for Europe was nine men and five women per weight category).
    - fifteen wild cards.
    - In all, the judokas for the Atlanta Olympic Games were not to exceed 400.
    During the general congress in Malta, Europe adopted a complicated and expensive system for their ranking system. Judokas could compete in 10 A tournaments and the European championships.
    Only points accmulated in these events would qualify them for the "European Olympic rank list". The rank list could only be finalised after the European championships held in May in The Hague, Holland.
    As sports director, I was responsible for this rank list and I can assure you it was very difficult and hard to qualify.
    On July 5, the closing date for the "lists by name" for the Olympics, we were still trying to solve some problems of qualifications. 

    Wild cards
    The Malta Olympic Committee, after studying the results in the agreed programme for the Olympiad, sent an application to enter Jason Trevisan, 2nd Dan, and Laurie Pace, 2nd Dan. No other judoka had the necessary qualifications to compete in these Olympics, not even Philip Camilleri, who placed 43rd in the European rank list or Jackie Xuereb, twice winner of gold in the Games for European Small States, could qualify as they were not yet 1st Dan. 
    Seven wild cards were allocated to Europe and these were distributed by a tripartite commission made up of the International Judo Federation, the International Olympic Committee and the National Olympic Committees according to the European rank list and personal trek record. 
    Although Jason Trevisan had recently placed ninth out of 63 competitors in the Guido Sieni international meeting in Sardinia, Laurie Pace was still in a better position.

    Auckland medal 
    She still held the third place in the Commonwealth Games - Auckland ( the only Maltese to hold a medal in these Games to date) and she had classified in the European rank list in 32nd place, after placing 16th in the European championships in The Hague.
    She was therefore awarded a wild card. 
    This was awarded to her personally for her qualifications and was not transferable.
    Unfortunately this information came so late - two weeks before the Olympics - that we were unable to benefit from the MOC's special fund for pre-Olympics preparation and we only managed to send Laurie to Italy for a week's final tuning just before she left for Atlanta. 
    If one looks at some statistics of the Judo event at the Atlanta Olympic Games, one will understand the achievement for Laurie Pace to be present in these Games representing Malta. 
    - In the final European rank list, Laurie was ahead of 15 athletes from Switzerland, Russia, France, Hungary, Italy, Yugoslavia, Czech Republic, Bosnia Herzehovina, Moldavia, Rumania, Ukraine and Poland. 
    - There were 395 athletes, from 97 countries. 
    - The International Judo Federation has a membership of 177 - 87 countries (12 from Europe) did not make it to the Olympics.
    - There were only 24 entries in the -61kg category and all had the best curriculum of their Union. Laurie was drawn to meet the world champion and then the European champion.
    She might have had better chances if she had been drawn against Biggi Blum from Liechtenstein who had also qualified, like Laurie, through a wild card, but this is judo.
    In the Atlanta Games we have seen world champions and Olympic champions eliminated in the first bout.
    We have seen these champions thrown just after a few seconds, but their country was still very proud of them to have made it to the greatest sporting event in the world and represented their country.
    Perhaps these will be the last Olympics as an athlete for Laurie but in her 18 years of judo she has brought herself and Malta great honours. This she did with great sacrifice, besides her four-hour daily training.

    No vacation leave
    She now has to work overtime to make up for the time she spent in Atlanta, as she was not given leave to represent her country at the Olympics.
    On the other hand, I have to thank the MOC, particularly the president, Judge Gino Camilleri, the sports director, Pippo Psaila, the Minister for justice and Arts, Dr Michael Refalo, and our main sponsor, Michael Attard Ltd. for their faith and support.
    We would not have made it alone. 
    Our next target is Iceland! But already in the European Judo executive committee in Edinburgh, at the end of August we have Sydney Olympic Games qualifications on the agenda. Who knows if we will make it again!
    
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