For Ran­dall, jour­ney is more im­por­tant than the des­ti­na­tion

The Herald - Herald Sport - - COMMONWEALTH GAMES -

ONE re­calls Graeme Ran­dall for sev­eral rea­sons: pri­mar­ily as Scot­land’s first world judo cham­pion and for the Com­mon­wealth gold medal which he won at the risk of life-threat­en­ing in­jury, but also for two bru­tally con­trast­ing in­ter­views.

As world cham­pion, Ran­dall trav­elled to the Syd­ney Olympics in 2000 on a tide of surg­ing ex­pec­ta­tion but was elim­i­nated in the open­ing round. He was among the most distraught com­peti­tors I have ever in­ter­viewed. Two sum­mers later he won Com­mon­wealth gold in Manch­ester while suf­fer­ing from a pro­lapsed disc, and his joy and re­lief matched that which at­tended any tri­umph I have wit­nessed.

But then he ag­o­nised about con­tin­u­ing to the Athens Olympics, in an at­tempt to achieve what had been de­nied him. He told me then: “I knew I was putting my neck on the line. For three months there were con­stant sleep­less nights and loss of sen­sa­tion in my left arm.’’

He had two young sons and he and his wife, Joanna, de­cided the risks were too great. He walked away at 27 and be­came a pioneer in UK Sport’s elite coach pro­gramme. Ran­dall sub­se­quently broad­ened his ap­pren­tice­ship in a num­ber of sig­nif­i­cant roles and now has what he de­scribes as: “the best job in the world – lead man­ager for sport and ed­u­ca­tion at the Na­tional Re­cre­ation Cen­tre at In­ver­clyde.”

The 39-year-old is also man­ager of Scot­land’s judo team for Glas­gow 2014, which he says is “an amaz­ing hon­our”. The 14-strong squad (seven men, seven women) will be selected in a fort­night’s time. The sport is back on the Games’ pro­gramme for the first time since 2002, when Ran­dall’s gold was backed by three sil­ver and six bronze medals: the most suc­cess­ful judo team ever. The Glas­gow 2014 coach is Davie Somerville, a sil­ver medal­list in 2002.

Ran­dall was Euro­pean ju­nior cham­pion and world ju­nior bronze medal­list while study­ing PE at Ed­in­burgh Univer­sity. He com­peted in three world cham­pi­onships and two Olympics. Twelve years af­ter fin­ish­ing on the mat, his sport­ing ap­petite is undi­min­ished, though he ac­knowl­edges try­ing to “break away” from judo as a pro­fes­sion and a ca­reer. “I wanted to di­ver­sify to the broader sports spec­trum but my im­me­di­ate am­bi­tion is to make sure we get a full team to the Games and see them per­form to the best of their abil­ity. If they do, we’re go­ing to have a very happy judo team.”

Ran­dall par­tic­i­pates in a fast-track coach pro­gramme that in­cluded men­tor­ing by such as rugby’s Clive Wood­ward, mo­tor rac­ing’s Al­lan McNish, and Yogi Breis­ner from eques­tri­an­ism. Ran­dall then coached the UK judo cadet squad for three years, worked as Scot­land’s head coach at Ratho, and as a sports de­vel­op­ment of­fi­cer at sportscot­land, with weightlift­ing, ta­ble ten­nis, bad­minton, Horse Scot­land, Scot­tish stu­dent sport and the Scot­tish Sports As­so­ci­a­tion.

Yet is there a fes­ter­ing re­gret over hav­ing been a po­ten­tial Olympic cham­pion only to fail on the day? “The con­no­ta­tions of be­reave­ment spring to mind,” Ran­dall re­sponds un­hesi­tat­ingly. He’s clearly as­sessed this be­fore. “For me it was a very sim­i­lar emo­tion – of hav­ing some­thing so close to you, some­thing you wanted to have, and all of a sud­den, in the blink of an eye, it’s not there. It was a very sud­den and tragic emo­tion that I felt.

“I knew I’d never have an­other chance of go­ing to the Olympics. It was like a be­reave­ment: you had lost some­body close to you and you were never go­ing to see them again. It was a very sim­i­lar emo­tion. But do

‘ Th‘

e aim is to have a full team at the Games and to en­sure they per­form to the best of their abil­ity

I have hang-ups about not win­ning? No. Be­cause the jour­ney and process of try­ing to be­come Olympic cham­pion made me the per­son I am to­day. Would win­ning the gold medal have changed me or made me a bet­ter per­son? Prob­a­bly not. The most im­por­tant part when you look back is the ex­pe­ri­ences you had in try­ing to get there.

“Be­fore you can win at the high­est level – and win with dig­nity and hon­our – you have to learn to lose, and learn to cope with los­ing. Any­one who goes through their com­pet­i­tive ca­reer think­ing they’re un­beat­able is flawed. Their per­son­al­ity is flawed, and their abil­ity to be a judo player is flawed.

“They need to un­der­stand them­selves and their place in the judo ta­pes­try, and un­der­stand that on any given day, there are hun­dreds of judo play­ers who can knock you over and could beat you. It’s hav­ing re­spect for ev­ery­one you com­pete against.” Even for a world cham­pion? “Yes. Prob­a­bly more so, be­cause that’s a very tem­po­rary po­si­tion. You spend years pre­par­ing to climb Ever­est but you’re lucky if you spend 30 min­utes up there be­fore you have to come down again.

“When you are younger, you prob­a­bly don’t ap­pre­ci­ate the process. It’s only now I can look back, when I have the plea­sure of watch­ing my old train­ing part­ner Euan Bur­ton go through a re­ally ex­cit­ing judo story him­self. We talk about what made us dif­fer­ent from other guys, and it’s very much about tak­ing care of prepa­ra­tion, about get­ting the jour­ney right. Don’t worry about the des­ti­na­tion.”

Ran­dall’s ter­mi­nus proved to be Manch­ester. “It was a re­ally se­ri­ous neck in­jury and other as­pects of my life were start­ing to ex­ert a stronger pull. There was the risk that I might be tempted to carry on to Athens, to try to fin­ish my ca­reer on a dif­fer­ent note, but that would have been fun­da­men­tally dan­ger­ous.”

And so he has joined a new breed of sports­men whose tal­ents are ac­knowl­edged by em­ploy­ers as an as­set, not a li­a­bil­ity, and these trans­fer from the sports arena to busi­ness. “It’s not what you know or what you do,” says Ran­dall. “It’s how you con­duct yourself. To be­come world class, you have to have con­ducted yourself dif­fer­ently from 99.9% of the pop­u­la­tion. That per­cent­age dif­fer­ence is how you con­duct yourself in meet­ings, in com­pany, with strangers and with so­ci­ety in gen­eral. It’s about as­sim­i­lat­ing and pro­cess­ing what you learn.”

Scot­land’s judo sta­tus owes much to the na­tional cen­tre at Ratho. “How can you have a sport that has pro­duced world medals an Euro­pean cham­pi­ons and not have a na­tional cen­tre they can call home?”

Would it be dif­fer­ent if Scot­land was in­de­pen­dent? “For any Scot­tish sports­man to com­pete on the world stage, they need an in­fra­struc­ture that matches and ex­ceeds their own as­pi­ra­tions. Our Scot­tish sys­tem has un­doubt­edly im­proved: in­fra­struc­ture, fa­cil­i­ties, the net­work be­hind it. There have been mas­sive steps for­ward. There’s still work to be done. We need more play­ers com­pet­ing at a high level. But no mat­ter what, com­peti­tors will still be turn­ing up to train the day af­ter the ref­er­en­dum.”

Com­mon­wealth gold, he says, was “my proud­est mo­ment be­ing a Scot. But my best sport­ing achieve­ment was the world ti­tle.”

His sons, Ewan, 13, and Rob­bie, 11 to­mor­row, have not fol­lowed their fa­ther on to the mat, “Liv­ing in Largs, they are both very much into sail­ing. And that’s my hobby now, too. I have a Hunter 23.”

Pic­ture: Herald Ar­chive

WORTH THE WAIT: Graeme Ran­dall shows off his judo gold medal won at the Manch­ester Com­mon­wealth Games, two years af­ter the ‘be­reave­ment’ of Olympic fail­ure in Syd­ney.

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