THIS weekend’s Glasgow European Open may be the biggest judo tournament ever staged in Scotland, but its prime aim was a more ephemeral one, to act as a gentle warm-up to acquaint Glasgow’s public with the sport of judo in the run-up to the Commonwealth Games and to unveil the unfeasibly shiny new Emirates Arena.
On that basis it was undoubtedly a success, with the punters gasping at the sheer scale and opulence of the surprisingly atmospheric arena which will host the badminton next July – the judo will take place at the SECC – and pressing their noses against the glass doors to get a glimpse of the futuristic Sir Chris Hoy velodrome. Appetites were most certainly whetted.
If the venue dazzled, the impression made on the mats was more mixed, especially as the home involvement on the opening day proved to be a disappointingly anti-climactic affair despite some enthusiastic support. The main man – in fact the only Scot competing yesterday – was 25-year-old Portobello boy Patrick Dawson, who has been enjoying a year to remember after only taking up the sport as an 18-year-old George Watson’s College schoolboy after being inspired by Chris Hoy’s visit to his alma mater. Since then the Heriot-Watt student has been on a steady upward trajectory which has culminated in his best year so far, in which he beat reigning Olympic champion Mansur Isaev of Russia to win the Pan American Open in Buenos Aires after financing much of the trip himself as he broke into the world’s top 50.
Fresh back from six weeks training with some of the best judoka in the world in Japan and with the Commonwealth Games just nine months away, he was looking to impose himself on a weak 73kg field. After getting off to a decent start with a comfortable victory over Spain’s Diego Sanchez Mondaca in his first bout, from there things went rapidly downhill. His second fight ended in a comprehensive defeat to eventual gold medallist Marco Maddaloni, the Italian inflicting a yuko, waza-ari and two penalties before a second waza-ari ended a surprisingly one-sided contest. Then in the repechage, his final bout against Tomer Zakheim was a carbon copy of his earlier defeat, with the Israeli inflicting a waza-ari, yuko and then a second waza-ari to knock Dawson out of the competition.
“I’m well capable of medalling here so I’m very disappointed,” he said. “This has been my best year so far, but it’s not just that I’ve won things it’s that my performances have been consistently good, so with the Commonwealth Games so near this was a useful wake-up call.”
There weren’t any medals for the clutch of British judoka who call Ratho home, although Norfolk 66kg fighter Colin Oates, left, did win a gold medal with a stirring performance in the final against Belgian Jasper Lefevere, which the Briton won with a towering ippon. It was, he said later, “a good win against a tough group of fighters – I keep winning matches and medals, but nothing strengthens you mentally like winning tournaments.”
In the other two finals, hot favourite Austrian Ludwig Paischer beat Pole Lukasz Kielbasinski by ippon to claim the 60kg gold medal, while Maddaloni overwhelmed fellow Italian Andrea Regis, also by ippon, to claim the 73kg gold.
If yesterday was a dry run to familiarise the Scottish public with the sport ahead of next year’s Commonwealth Games and the 2015 European Championships – which will be comfortably the biggest judo event ever held in Scotland – it was also a warm-up for today’s action. With the four heavier weight categories being contested at the Emirates today, there will also be far more Scottish interest.
Chief amongst the interest today will be local blue-eyed boy Euan Burton, who will be competing in the 100kg category after winning his first tournament at the category in Belgrade a couple of weeks ago. His presence yesterday, along with Olympic silver medal-winning wife Gemma Gibbons (the women fight here next year – same place, same time) caused plenty of excitement and should ensure an even bigger crowd than the 2,000 at the Emirates yesterday.
The veteran may not be the only home interest today, although his contest with fellow Ratho-based James Austin – who Burton coaches – will certainly be the most eagerly-awaited bout of the day. The two Ratho-based judoka also face English fighters Adam Hall and Ben Fletcher, who originally made last year’s Olympic team before being controversially discarded. The other eagerly-awaited performer today will be Edinburgh-based veteran Matthew Purssey. The veteran was left out of last year’s Olympic squad despite being British No.1 in the 90kg category and unsuccessfully contesting an inexplicable decision through every channel open to him. He will undoubtedly have a point to prove against never-say-die warrior Mike Horley and young English wildcards Theo Spalding McIntosh and Frazer Chamberlain.
The one other bit of home interest revolves around another of the Ratho contingent, the over-100kg fighter Chris Sherrington.