TWO-TIME Olympian and double female African judo champion Debi Jeans recently capped off her tenure as the Judo Association of Zimbabwe (JAZ) president, but she says she will remain available to assist the sport that runs deep in the genes of the Jeans family.
yesteryear profile with MUNYARADZI MADZOKERE
The veteran judoka has been a colossal ambassador for the sport in Zimbabwe on the international stage as a fighter and referee since she won gold in the South African Championship in 1979.
Since then, she came fourth at the World University Championships in Strasbourg, France representing University of Zimbabwe in 1984 before winning a silver medal at the Italian Regional Championships the following year and scooping gold at the 1986 African Championships in Casablanca, Morocco.
Jeans then represented the country at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, where she finished eighth, as well as at Barcelona 1992 Games before concluding her fighting career with a gold medal performance the 1995 All Africa Games in Zimbabwe.
After retiring from competitive judo, Jeans flourished in a refereeing career that began in 1996 and took her to different cities around the world.
In 2011 she took over the reins as JAZ president.
“I have done my part, I am happy to let it go. Now I want to be the godmother of judo in Zimbabwe and be involved in any level I am needed to assist. There is a wonderful new executive and they are going forward with the sport,” she said when Standardsport visited her Rolf Valley Gym in the leafy Harare surburb of Borrowdale.
Fascinatingly, Debi’s parents Brian (now late) and Pat Warren, who met in a judo club in Plymouth, England, are credited for bringing judo into the country when they started a club in Masvingo in 1953.
Brian served many years on the judo executive committee and as the Zimbabwe Olympic Committee (ZOC) vice-president for 10 years while Pat in her late 70s remains the national development coach, overseeing a number of clubs and coaches.
“It’s not me but my parents’ legacy. It’s the end of the whole era with me stepping down but my mum is still there officially as the national development coach,” Jeans said.
Jeans spoke about two of her most memorable occasions in judo to date.
“There are two moments; the one moment was at the All Africa Games here in Harare in the final fight and I won by a decision. It was touch and go, absolutely incredible with the crowd behind me at the Zanu PF headquarters.
“The other one was refereeing the World Senior Championships in Rotterdam in 2009, which was also an Olympic qualifier. Just to be there [and being] involved with the best judokas in the world was just something else,” she said.
Some of the 52-year-old’s achievements as JAZ leader in the past six years include medals at the Regional Youth Games in 2014 and 2016, securing a smart partnership with the Japanese International Co-operation Agency (Jica) as well as with the Embassy of Japan, among others.
“The Embassy of Japan has been very supportive of us and for two years has been sponsoring a prestigious team event, the Ambassador Cup where the best of Zimbabwe fighters compete.
“Jica sent us one coach for six months and currently a second coach for two years and they have promised more. These partnerships have improved the standard of judo. I got a call from Titus Zvomuya this morning to tell me that Bindura University had also secured a Japanese coach from Jica for six months,” she said.
Jeans also revealed that a formal request was made to Sports and Recreation minister, Makhosini Hlongwane by Japanese ambassador Yoshi Hiraishi to seriously consider putting judo on the curriculum at schools.
Indications suggest that the minister is interested in adopting the suggestion, which could be a massive boost for the martial art sport.
The former African judo champion believes that judo has turned the corner in the past few years and is ready for a major take off.
“I think we have turned a point but I do believe that in any sport in Zimbabwe we need to win in South Africa championships before we can go further. I think we sometimes sent our athletes to international events too early,” she said.
She also tipped fighters such as Lazarus Arufandika, Justin Pavari and Moses Mutendi to do well on the international scene if given enough support to compete at the big stages.
However, Jeans feels women judo still has a long way to go.
“Our girls are coming but they still have a long way to go. the problem is that we are not tough enough. Physical and mental toughness lacks, which is why I wrote to police commissioner [Augustine] Chihuri to allow us to train policewomen.
“We taught the policewomen judo for two months and they almost cleaned out every one of our fighters at a national ranking event some 18 months ago,” jeans said.
A fourth Dan black belt holder, Jeans said she was also going to venture into lifestyle medicine through nutrition and exercise with her husband Austin Jeans, who is a well-respected sports medicine physician.
“In his book my husband wrote: ‘You can never out-train or out-exercise a bad diet.’ If you notice the elite athletes are the ones that are dying from cancer and now I want to help my husband in lifestyle medicine through nutrition and exercise,” she said.
Jeans hails from a sporting family where her brother Phillip Warren also represented Zimbabwe in judo, while sister Linda Warren (formerly Davidson) flew the country’s flag in triathlon and cycling.
Her two sons Michael and Phillip are both black belt first dan holders in judo.
In her judo life, Jeans has learnt one thing.
“It’s like they say, ‘if a child can do judo for a short period of time in his life, they will be a better citizens’, that’s what I have learnt in judo.”