THE earliest batch of athletes selected for Team Scotland have now had around ten months to get used to the fact that they will represent their country at the Commonwealth Games. James Millar has had five days.
Before Monday, when the 32-year-old judo player from Invergordon was confirmed as the replacement for injured team-mate James Austin, competing in Glasgow next week was no more than a possibility. After being missed out of the original selection, Millar said yesterday, he had taken things easy for a while – or at least, easy compared to his usual build-up to a major tournament.
This is seen as one of the traditional disadvantages of being a late addition to a team: that even when you are aware you might be called up, you never have quite the same intensity of focus as you would if your place were guaranteed. But the under-66kg category competitor believes it is working in his favour, as he has avoided the risk of becoming too intense.
“It was only after James got injured that my name was put forward,” Millar said yesterday at the judo squad’s pre-Games training camp in Ratho. “It was always a possibility I’d get called up, but I was never given any guarantees by the selection panel. I was just told keep yourself in shape – you never know what might happen. And lo and behold that’s the case now.
“I’d cut back on my training, but I think that’s probably better for me. I’ve got a terrible habit of over-training. Being well rested with no injuries or niggles means I’m in a good position to do well on the day.
“I think there is less pressure, because two weeks out there’s very little expectation for me to get a medal, but I think that’s a good thing for me.
“I’m very much the underdog in the category, but I do think I’ve got the capability to get a medal and potentially win it as well. Who knows?
“I’ve spoken to James a few times about it now, originally after he’d had his injury. As far as I was aware then I wasn’t fighting, and I was devastated for him. It was a terrible time for it to happen.”
Three times a British champion, Millar is both a player and a coach, working full-time with the Just Judo club in Midlothian. Until injury to Austin, he thought his fourth and final chance to compete at the Games had passed him by: in 2002, he was a reserve and was not called on, while in 2006 and again four years ago, judo did not feature on the programme.
“It’s a nice potential end to my career, to represent my country,” he said. “My expectation, like everyone in the team, is to win. I’m the same as everyone in the team. I should medal. If I don’t medal I’ll be highly disappointed.”
Being a latecomer to the squad and not an original choice, Millar as an individual does not face the burden of external expectation that team-mates such as Euan Burton have to deal with. But the squad as a whole are well aware that the onus is on them to take a significant haul of medals from the Games. In Manchester, after all, judo was Scotland’s most successful sport, with a gold, three silver and six bronze medals.
“I think we can expect similar success – we’ve got a great squad,” Millar said. “We’ve got some potential, and some seasoned players as well. We’ve got a really chance to match what we did in Manchester, but it just depends on what happens on the day.
“As he is the judo superstar he is, I would say the highest expectations are on my coach, Euan Burton. He’s got a great chance of bringing home gold. He’s never stagnant, he’s always looking to improve himself, and I think that’s why he’s so successful in the sport. Also Sally Conway. She’s been doing really well, she’s No 6 in the world, and has got every chance to win the gold as well.”
As judo players normally represent Great Britain, and English team-members as well as Scots are based at Ratho throughout the year, the Commonwealth Games will pit team-mates and training partners against one another.
In Millar’s case, the team-mate in question will be Colin Oates, of England, the favourite for their weight category. Colin trains here and we know each other inside out, so that’s going to be a tough fight for him and for me.
“There was an Australian as well, but I’ve heard he’s been ruled out, though that’s not 100 per cent yet. And there’s also a Cypriot guy who is always pretty dangerous.
“I saw Colin two days ago when I was coming in for a morning session. They’ve got a holding camp in Kendal so I think he was about to make his way there. We were just chatting away as normal.
“I wouldn’t say we feel like separate camps. A lot of the players in the England squad have been together in the British team with some of us for a number of years. It’s a great rivalry when we compete. But off the mat it’s just friendly as normal.”