JODIE Mullen set off yesterday for Mauritius, where the IJF African Open is taking place on Saturday. Next week, her onward journey takes her to Apia in Samoa, where the Asian Open offers more world-ranking points that will help her to qualify for the Commonwealth Games. A few months ago she competed in El Salvador and felt guilty when she didn’t justify the outlay with a medal.
No athlete, surely, is taking a more roundabout route to get to Glasgow.
The irony for Mullen, who hails from Penicuik, is that the big old metropolis on the other side of the central belt is the only place her father had to go to make Scottish Judo history 41 years ago.
Eddie Mullen, who became Scotland’s first Olympic judoka when he represented Great Britain in Munich in 1972, trained for his shot at the big time in the Osaka Judo Club on the fourth floor of a building in Albion Street, in the heart of the Merchant City. Today, the third floor of that same building houses the Glasgow 2014 organising committee and it was across the road in the Old Fruitmarket that they held a big party in 2007 to celebrate “decision day” with a live video feed from Colombo, Sri Lanka.
A neat circle will be complete, then, if as expected Mullen’s 22-year-old daughter competes for Scotland next summer in the city where he honed his craft. The curious thing about this script is that it has all been written by accident.
“I always knew about judo because of my dad, but he actually got me into other martial arts like karate and taekwondo and he didn’t really want me to start judo, because he wanted to do it for myself if I wanted to start,” says Mullen Jnr.
“I only started when I was 13, whereas I had been doing karate since I was seven or eight, and then taekwondo. But I loved it straight away. I joined the Edinburgh club and I think it was just that all the people there were really friendly, they became my friends and I just really enjoyed it, especially when I started getting into competitions.”
Even then, the teenage Mullen found that her father remained just that – a father, rather than a coach or tutor as she sought to distinguish her Kani Basami from her Daki Wakare. It was only when Jodie committed herself to a life on the judo mat at the exclusion of all other sporting pursuits that the man who finished ninth in the 1972 Olympics began to bring his experience to the table.
If it’s possible to become an antithesis to the pushy sporting parent, while still making an invaluable contribution to a child’s progress, Eddie Mullen has achieved it. Now “retired”, he runs a cafe in Penicuik to help fund his daughter’s globetrotting programme. And, when she asks for technical tips, he obliges.
“I used to do judo every Saturday, and then it just grew and grew until I was doing it five nights a week,” recalls Mullen, who fights at the same weight category (-63kg) as her father did. “Dad was driving me around everywhere, and my mum was too, and I totally relied on them to get me to Edinburgh from Penicuik all the time.
“But dad didn’t really get involved in my judo at the start. He helps me sometimes now – he has had an influence on my Ne Waza, which is groundwork, so he has showed me quite a lot on the ground. But he always just talked to me about judo and tactics, about being nervous at competitions; he just spoke to me about it but never got involved until a few years ago.
“He’s the total opposite to some parents, who are totally pushy. He’s always wanted me to do it for myself. I don’t even have his genes for judo. When I first started I was so gangly, and had no strength at all.”
A bespoke strength-and-conditioning programme undertaken under the guidance of Allan McDonald has fixed that shortcoming, with the result that Mullen, who left school at 16 and has been training full-time ever since, is tipped to become one of the all-time greats of Scottish judo.
That kind of billing is the result of the kind of infrastructure that takes the breath away. Judo Scotland’s impressive headquarters, if you can find them, are upstairs from the Edinburgh International Climbing Arena in a quarry in Ratho.
There, Mullen is guided by a number of coaches including one all-time great, Euan Burton, who has put the heartbreak of defeat at London 2012 behind him to target gold in Glasgow.
Whisper it, but judo could be one of the great contributors to Team Scotland’s success next summer. Mullen doesn’t hide her ambition when asked if she has tried not to think about the opportunity that awaits, preferring to focus on qualifying.
“No, I’ve definitely thought about it,” she says with a laugh. “That is my aim, to go to Glasgow and win the Commonwealth Games. I think it’s definitely achievable.”