HE’S a good man to have on your side, Chris Sherrington. One look at this judoka giant is enough to tell you that. And come 2014 he will be on our side.
Born in Lancashire, the 29-year-old Royal Marine qualifies for Scotland on residence grounds, having lived here since the start of his judo career some eight years ago. Judo will be in the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow for the first time since 2002, and if he keeps up his present form Sherrington will be among the favourites for heavyweight gold.
In London earlier this year he had one of the most explosive Olympic debuts ever, winning his first bout, against Australian Jake Andrewartha, in just 24 seconds. He then took Russia’s three-time world champion Alexander Mikhaylin to a golden score before being eliminated.
He had intended to return to the Marines after the Games, but fought so well that he now hopes to carry on as a full-time judoka up to Rio 2016. His employers have just granted him another two-year sports draft, which will take him up to Glasgow: whether he makes it to the next Olympics will depend on how well he does there.
If you discount a short involvement at primary school, Sherrington was a latecomer to judo. Having joined the Marines as a vehicle mechanic at 17, he took up the sport at 21, and in no time was ‘invited’ to go full-time.
“It took off pretty quickly because of my Royal Marines training – we capitalised on the fact I was so physically robust and mentally tough,” he explained this week before heading off to Samoa for the latest leg of the World Cup. “I sort of fast-tracked myself – it was never a plan to do judo full-time.
“I was stood in front of my boss one day thinking ‘I’m in trouble’, and he said: ‘I heard you did well at the judo’.
“I was like ‘Oh my god, this is a curve ball’. And he asked if I fancied going full-time. I said yes. Cause you never say no.
“I’d just done the British trials and was third in Britain. It was a crazy acceleration to the dizzy heights of the British team. I thought I’d wing it, then I went on a Combined Services trip and won it. While we were out there I said to some of the guys ‘Imagine getting on the British squad’ and they all laughed at me. Six months later I was third in Britain and on the squad. A year later I became No 1 in Britain. It’s just gone out of control from there.”
Or rather, it has become more controlled, at least when it comes to the actual fights. At well over six feet and 20 stone, Sherrington has never lacked physical prowess. The more subtle elements of the martial art, however, have been harder for him to grasp.
“One thing I struggled with to start with in judo was the controlled aggression. In the Marines they teach you to control your aggression – but it’s a higher level of aggression.
“I’ve had referees stop me in the middle of a bout because they’ve thought, ‘He’s going to do something nasty. He’s actually going to hurt this guy because he’s being so boisterous and so hands-on’. It’s just that I’ve been trained to go into a different level of adrenalin. One thing I really struggle to do is 50 per cent. I’m either on or off. I’m either trying to pull your arms and legs off, or I’m at the side of the mat, chilled with a book.
“Now that I’ve started this quest I’ve got to finish it. As a Marine, my job is to win a medal at the biggest tournament possible. And I can win a medal at the Olympics. I know I can. I was very close at this Olympic Games.”
Being married to a Scot, and having lived in West Lothian for some time, Sherrington has no qualms about possibly fighting against his native land in Glasgow. He does not see it as real fighting in any case, certainly compared to the genuine combat he has experienced with the Marines. “I’ve fought for the whole of Britain anyway. I’ve been in Iraq. I’ve done my bit,” he said. “I’ve seen some big guys shaking at the side of a judo mat, and I’m thinking: ‘You ain’t really got nothing to lose. You’re not going to die’.
“Judo is a fight, but you both bow off, you respect each other, you have a good fight then walk off. Nine times out of ten there’s no injuries at all.” He is still officially a Marine, and wants to get back in time to the job he signed up for. But before then, there are a couple of major competitions to take part in. He is not going to give either 50 per cent.
“Come the Commonwealths I should be really on form, then come Rio I should be at my peak as a heavyweight judo player,” he predicted. “So we’ll wait and see. It could be spectacular.”