By Steffen Green
It all started with Michaela Semsch. The 38-year-old, who ended her career long ago, established the national supremacy of Backnang’s judo women in the weight class up to 48 kilograms. She won the German championship title from 2004 to 2006 and 2009 under her maiden name Baschin. Katharina Menz succeeded her, and from 2014 she even triumphed six times in a row. When she was absent in 2020 because the Grand Prix in Tel Aviv was about important points for the Olympic ticket, Helena Grau jumped into the breach. At the age of just 19, she snagged the gold medal and thus confirmed the reputation of the club from Murrtal as a talent factory, especially in the lightweight division.
Title fights in 2021 only in September
Shortly thereafter, Corona came and whirled everything up. The Tokyo Olympics have been postponed to 2021. In the same year, the German championship did not take place in January as usual, but only in September. Not including Menz, who had only walked on the mat a few weeks earlier under the sign of the rings and who took a break after losing the first round in the individual competition and winning the bronze medal with the German mixed team. And without Grau, who at this point had already endured a long period of suffering. In autumn 2020, her left kneecap broke out during training, and persistent pain continued to accompany her after the operation. Sarah Ischt (MTV Vorsfelde) took advantage of the moment and broke the long winning streak of the Backnang women in the national title fights in the weight class up to 48 kilograms.
Katharina Menz is aiming for the gold medal
When the German championship takes place this weekend for the fifth time since 2018 in the Scharrena in Stuttgart, the TSG fighters want to show their well-known dominance in lightweight again. Even the trainer Jens Holderle does not have to formulate this claim, because the figurehead of the club does it personally. “I accept the role of favourites,” says Katharina Menz. The 31-year-old gained additional self-confidence with her first place at the European Cup in Madrid eleven days ago and deliberately puts herself under pressure: “I definitely want the gold medal.”
Helena Grau wants a podium
Her club colleague has little doubt that she will actually take this coveted precious metal home with her and thus win her seventh national title. Her answer to the question of who will be ahead comes like a shot: “Katha.” But she herself does not travel from her adopted home of Cologne to Swabia just to be there. “I definitely want to get a medal,” emphasizes Helena Grau, who, unlike Katharina Menz, has silver or bronze in mind in the expected three-way battle with defending champion Sarah Ischt. If it ends up being gold, she wouldn’t mind, but the 21-year-old doesn’t want to raise expectations too high. After all, it is only her third tournament after a one-and-a-half year injury break, which ended in seventh place at the European Cup in Dubrovnik in April. In Madrid, she was overtaken by the first round, and she also played in the first division for her hometown club, Backnang. Nothing more and that’s why it’s “first of all important to get back in there. I still lack competition practice.”
In this situation, Helena Grau believes it is helpful that the championship is held in a familiar hall. Since moving to the Rhineland, she has found this home advantage, which the Württemberg judokas have had in Stuttgart since 2018, to be “even cooler because I’m at home again and the family is there live”. For Katharina Menz it is also “practical to be able to sleep at home and not have to go to a hotel”. That can also be a factor that helps her to her seventh title.
TSG coach Jens Holderle believes that the other Backnanger judokas who will be on the mat in Stuttgart are capable of one or the other sense of achievement, without wanting to talk about any podium finishes. The women are Chiara Serra (up to 52), Tayla Grauer (up to 70) and Tanja Hehr (over 78), the men are a duo or a trio: Valentin Molinari (up to 60) and Robin Angerer (up to 66) get involved, there is a question mark behind the ailing Andre Sträßer (up to 90). However, Hehr’s third place last year showed how quickly things can go towards medals.