Euan Burton thrown by demands of being coach

Euan Burton moved into full-time coaching after finishing his judo career with a Commonwealth Games gold. Picture: Neil Hanna

Euan Burton moved into full-time coaching after finishing his judo career with a Commonwealth Games gold. Picture: Neil Hanna

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RETIREMENT is supposed to be a chance to put your feet up, but it seems nobody told Euan Burton.

Two months on from winning a Commonwealth Games gold medal in his last ever fight as a judoka, the 35-year-old has a more hectic schedule than ever.

Alright, he’s sitting in the cafe at Judo Scotland headquarters eating a cherry bakewell, a minuscule luxury he would never have allowed himself when training for a competition, but that’s where the self-indulgence ends.

Having made the transition to full-time coach immediately after Glasgow, Burton needs to be even more self-disciplined than before, not less, particularly when it comes to organising his time. In the past he was only really responsible for himself..

He said: “It’s a lot busier. You think you’ve got it hard as an athlete when you’re looking after one person, but when you’re looking after ten or 15 or 20 other athletes it’s a whole new kettle of fish.”

Burton and his wife, Olympic and Commonwealth silver medallist Gemma Gibbons, finally got away on holiday to Spain for a few days last week, but neither can expect too many breaks over the next couple of years now that the countdown to the next Olympics has begun.

Burton said: “I came out of the athletes village and straight to work here. On the Tuesday after the Games closing ceremony I was in here for 12 hours, and it’s been pretty much full on since then, because our guys with aspirations for Rio are now in the midst of the qualification process.”

One of two assistant high-performance coaches, funded by the Scottish Institute of Sport, Burton was Scotland’s flagbearer at the Glasgow 2014 opening ceremony, and won his gold medal three days later. They were two very different experiences – one entirely his own achievement, the other the result of a vote by his team-mates – but ones which, looking back, he sees as complementary.

He said: “If I’d carried the flag at the opening ceremony and not got a gold medal, I’d probably have felt I’d let the team down. The fact that I managed to do both was the special thing for me. Carrying the flag is a moment I’ll be very proud of for the rest of my life, and then to go on and win a gold medal was fantastic. But even more than that, I was very proud to have been part of a team who did great things.”

Part of the support team now, he may not have to train to the same level of intensity as when he was competing, but he is still intent on maintaining a high degree of fitness. Not only will that ensure he can more or less hold his own in practice, it is also, he believes, important for his own well-being.

He said: “As part of my coaching role I also have to partner some of our heaviest guys some of the time, which means doing a fair bit of exercise – but probably over the last month or so not as much as I’d like, and I’m probably not eating as well as I was doing. The important thing is to try and do enough training so I don’t feel bad about myself.

“I’ve got 25 years of training two, three, four times a day at very high intensities, and when you’re doing that you’re always eager for a break from it. But when the break goes over a week or two, you start feeling pretty bad about yourself.

“It’s been well documented that athletes who retire can get clinically depressed. I wouldn’t say I’m that, but if I don’t do any training in a week I start feeling not particularly good about myself. So I’m trying to keep training ticking over, but still devote myself to coaching.”

Burton will be back in Glasgow on Sunday for the Great Scottish Run – not competing this time, but working as an ambassador for the Bank of Scotland. He is, he said, far from being a natural runner, but who knows, just as Team Scotland inspired so many people in the summer, the sight of thousands of runners completing the 10k or half-marathon might just inspire him to attempt something similar in years to come.

He added: “In the future I’d like to run the London Marathon or potentially something up here. Gemma has said she’d quite like to do some sort of distance running at some stage, maybe when she’s finished competing at judo. Her mum did the London Marathon one year and I think was the slowest finisher. It’s something Gemma would quite like to do, but at the moment she’s coming back from an ankle injury, so being on her feet and doing running is the last thing on her mind.

“I think she’s perhaps one of the few people I know who’s less well adapted to running than I am, so if I can do it then it sets her a challenge.”

l Euan Burton is an Ambassador for the Bank of Scotland Great Scottish Run. As well as starting the 10k race, Euan will appear in the Bank of Scotland marquee at the finish line at Glasgow Green on Sunday 5 October. Find out more at www.greatscottishrun.com

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