IT HAS been a long wait for John Buchanan. So long, in fact, that for a time he gave up waiting altogether. But now, a dozen years on from his last appearance in the Commonwealth Games, the Scottish judoka at last has a chance to make amends.
Those Games in Manchester were a great success for Scotland’s judo team, who won ten medals altogether, including a memorable gold for Graeme Randall. However, they were less successful for Buchanan, who – a year on from winning world championship bronze – lost his first fight.
Now 38, the man from Broxburn insists that, far from merely making up the numbers, he is ready to contend for medals. “I never won a fight in Manchester, so I can’t do any worse this time,” he says. “In Manchester my wife, Clare Lynch, came second in the under-48kg – she was my girlfriend at the time – so I have happy memories of it from that point of view, but sad memories for myself.
“At the time I was one of the favourites to do well, because I was a current world medallist. It was one of the first times that I was beaten by Craig Fallon [like Lynch, a member of the England team], and he went on to be world champion, so then it didn’t seem quite as bad.”
It was just two years after those Games that Buchanan retired from competitive judo and devoted himself to coaching. With only one competitor per weight category allowed from each country, he found himself playing second fiddle to Fallon at GB level, and pulled out shortly before the Athens Olympics of 2004.
Judo was not included in the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne in 2006 or in Delhi four years later, so Glasgow is Buchanan’s first chance to represent Scotland again. It is now nearly seven years since the city won the right to host the Games, but only one since Buchanan made his return to action.
As he explains, it was a tentative return at first, but results since have been very encouraging. “I was thinking of coming back around the time of the London Olympics, but it would have meant six weeks in Japan and I would have been at the beck and call of the British Judo Association. I’ve got three kids – a six-and-a-half year old, a five-year-old, and a two-year-old – so it wouldn’t have been that easy to do that.
“But, at a home Games, the qualifying process is nowhere near as stringent. Judo Scotland and the Team Scotland guys have been a lot more flexible, which made it a bit more achievable.
“The kids will be there to see me. They’ve only seen me fighting once before – in the first tournament I fought in [after coming back], nearly a year ago.
“I only fought in it for a laugh – not for a laugh, but I took the whole team of kids that we have to an event at Crystal Palace. There were 14 of them, and 13 fought on the Saturday, and one of the girls fought on the Sunday. So I said to her ‘Look, I’ll fight on the Sunday, so you’re not on your own’.
“And in the back of my mind I was thinking ‘If this goes well… Commonwealth Games’. I came third – I lost to a guy in the British team, then I beat him for bronze.
“I’d pulled my hamstring and couldn’t do half the stuff that I wanted to do. It was a real eye-opener. The first contest I’d had in ten years – I thought I was going to have a heart attack.
“I was actually in the toilet after pulling my hamstring, and I was thinking ‘How can I get out of this?’ But my wife, our kids, and everybody from the judo club were there, and when I had my first fight I could hear my kids shouting ‘Come on daddy’ – it was really cute.
“So I’m in the toilet thinking ‘This is a lot harder than I remember it’, and then I heard them calling my name saying I’ve got two minutes to report to the mat. And I thought ‘It’s too late – I can’t get out of it’.
“So I had to go straight on to the mat, and the difference between my second fight and my first fight was night and day. My second fight I thought, ‘Oh, I remember this. It’s not as bad as it was’. Since then I’ve progressed and got better and better. My last tournament, I beat the current European silver medallist for the bronze. My fitness level and stamina have improved massively.
“The last three tournaments I’ve managed to pick up medals. I’m No 7 on the European ranking list.
“I think if I’d left it [his comeback] any later, I wouldn’t have made the team. In hindsight, I wish I’d started a wee bit earlier. I’ve only really been competing properly for the last six months. The last result in my very last tournament secured my place in the team.”
Even during that period of nearly a decade in which he did not compete, Buchanan at no stage fell out of love with his sport. “ I’ve never felt like I’ve had enough of it,” he says. “I teach judo for a living – myself and my wife run nine judo clubs across the central belt, Sportif Judo.
“I still went along and practised once a week or every couple of weeks, so I kept my hand in. And I still love the sport so, after the Olympics, especially with the Commonwealth Games being in Scotland, I was inspired to take it up again. You normally represent Team GB, so to be part of Team Scotland at a home Games is just massive.
“That was my motivation, the fact it’s in Scotland. If it was in Australia or somewhere else I wouldn’t have bothered.
“I can medal. I definitely can. My main issue is that I’m 38 years old, and every tournament I’ve gone into I’ve been carrying some kind of injury.
“If I make it to the start line in one piece, then I think I’ve got a really good chance of getting a medal.”