Euan Burton targets Olympic judo glory

Scotland's Euan Burton is now a coach with a keen eye on his charges. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
Scotland's Euan Burton is now a coach with a keen eye on his charges. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
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It’s the ears that give it away. The puffy lobes that betray three decades in which Euan Burton was stretched to the limit in ways beyond the natural pain threshold of mere mortals.

For, despite the occasional indulgence, judo’s twice world medallist, now 36, has lost little of the lithe gait on show when he signed off by landing the 100kg title at last year’s Commonwealth Games.

He was Scotland’s flag bearer then. Others, with his input and assistance, are now being asked to carry on the torch.

Now an assistant high performance coach at British Judo’s base in Edinburgh, the two-time Olympian has immersed himself fully in nurturing his successors, not to merely match his accomplishments but to fling themselves above and beyond.

All eyes are now on Rio 2016. The qualification process will pass through Glasgow on 10 October when priceless ranking points are up for grabs at the European Open. That, like last summer’s interlude in the city, is a small fish to catch. Thinking exponentially, it is the large whale everyone wants to land.

“If, in ten years time, people are still saying: ‘wasn’t Glasgow 2014 the best thing that ever happened to judo in Scotland?’ I think that would be a pretty poor legacy actually,” said Burton. “What I hope 
people are saying in ten years time is: ‘wasn’t that a good platform for the sport? And now we have an Olympic medallist, or an 
Olympic champion or a world champion’.

“The Commonwealth Games was fantastic for us but, as a programme, we have got ambitions to put a Scottish athlete on a world or Olympic podium. We have done it at world championship level before with a few players, but we have never done it at Olympic level. Our aspirations are at the top of the tree.”

Burton was not alone in hanging up his black belt. Others marched on with further hopefuls quickly filling the void. Sarah Adlington and Kimberley Renicks will have European challenges of their own in the weeks ahead.

While the Scottish trio of Andy Burns, Patrick Dawson and Jon Dewar are all among those who will hope for inspiration from a home crowd as they seek places in the top 20 of the rankings by the all-important cut-off point next April.

They should all aim sky high, Burton insists. No-one jetting off to Brazil, or any of the myriad exotic destinations on the route map to reach there, will be ill-equipped or under-prepared to succeed.

“Any event when players come back and they don’t have medals then we are disappointed,” added Burton. “We are not sending people to events where we think they have no chance of winning a medal.”

Points now can lead to prizes later. “The process whereby you have to qualify is so difficult, particularly if you come from Europe, because it is a very strong continent. If you qualify then you have got a shout.

“If we qualify two players we have two shouts. We could qualify anything up to six to seven players from this centre. With six or seven shouts, then yes I would be disappointed if we came away from the Games without a medal.”

After enjoying the euphoria of his now-wife Gemma Gibbons’ silver medal at London 2012, further gains would, Burton says, feel like triumphs shared. “I know from people who had tiny pieces of impact into Gemma’s career, they feel a lot of pride that they played a part. It might have been when she was a ten-year-old child and she stepped into their club two or three times. So if you are actually coaching somebody who gets a medal, it would be a fantastic feeling.”