IT’S been a long wait. The last time judo was in the Commonwealth Games, in Manchester 12 years ago, Scottish competitors won ten medals and it was the team’s most successful sport. The 14 athletes whose selection was announced yesterday therefore have a lot to live up to. They also have a lot of self-belief.
Their team manager is Graeme Randall, whose celebration after winning gold was one of the enduring memories of the 2002 Games. Their head coach, David Somerville, won silver back then, as did Sarah Clark, one of two competitors to be picked for her second Games along with John Buchanan. And Clark is one of five Olympians in the squad, Sally Conway, James Austin, Euan Burton and Chris Sherrington being the others.
“It’s going to be good,” Conway said yesterday. “We’ve got a strong squad, with seven men and seven women in the team, and we’re all capable of winning a medal. So fingers crossed it all goes well, and if we all fight to our potential it could be a good Commonwealth Games.” As even the best exponents in the world could attest from bitter experience, there are no guarantees in judo, and the slightest lapse in concentration can cost a competitor their chances of a medal. But nothing concentrates the mind like the knowledge that years of preparation can be dashed in seconds, and Conway is confident that this team have the mental as well as the physical strength to cope.
“It can all be over with one mistake. The fights for women now are four minutes and for men they are five minutes. So it can go the whole time and you can lose on a penalty, or you could lose in the first five or ten seconds when someone’s just caught you for a clean throw. Anything can happen, but we’ve got to prepare the best we can and fight the best we can and if we do all that we give ourselves a chance. That’s the bad thing and the good thing about the sport, because it always keeps you on your toes and you always have to keep learning.
“So when you do well it makes it even better and if everything comes together on the same day then you’ll get the medal you deserve. You can get yourself in the best physical shape and the best mental shape, the best prepared you can ever be, but if you’re not switched on in your head believing you can do it then you’ll struggle because when you’re out on that mat it’s difficult.
“My personal goal is to win gold. I’m going to go in there and go for it. I think everyone feels that if you work hard and if we all put in our best performance we’ve all got a really good chance of coming away with a Commonwealth medal.”
Originally from Bristol, Conway was only 15 and some years away from joining Judo Scotland when the Games were held in Manchester, but she is well aware of what Randall, in particular, achieved back then.
“I remember the photo of him on his knees and puffing out his chest [when he won gold]. I always remember that. It sticks with me. I imagine what an amazing feeling that was.”
In two months’ time, Conway and her team-mates will want to do a lot more than merely imagine how such victory feels. They will want to experience it for themselves, with the aim of emulating that class of 2002.