New coach Bur­ton sure his ju­dokas can kick on

Gold medal­list in­tends to build on Glas­gow 2014 suc­cess by nur­tur­ing Scots ju­dokas to Olympic glory

The Herald - Sport - - JUDO - STEWART FISHER

The Com­mon­wealth Games were fan­tas­tic for us but as a pro­gramme we have got am­bi­tions to put a Scot­tish ath­lete on a world or Olympic podium

FOUR­TEEN months have passed since Euan Bur­ton, guided by a some­what er­ratic Scot­tie dog, car­ried the saltire into Celtic Park to the syn­the­siser strains of The Shamen. The vet­eran signed off on an il­lus­tri­ous ca­reer in judo with first place in the -100kg cat­e­gory last sum­mer as Scot­tish ju­dokas racked up six golds, two sil­vers and five bronzes in to­tal at a stun­ningly suc­cess­ful games, but rest as­sured this stern stan­dard-bearer for Scot­tish judo has no in­ten­tion of al­low­ing the sport to let its lev­els drop. He dons the hat of na­tional coach next Satur­day as the Emi­rates Arena plays host to the Glas­gow Euro­pean Open, the latest stag­ing post in his latest mis­sion, which is to en­sure that one or more of his charges goes on to land an Olympic medal in the sport like the one which eluded him at Lon­don 2012.

“I said quite quickly af­ter Glas­gow that it was great for the sport – ab­so­lutely amaz­ing for the sport of judo – but the worst legacy we could leave would be that in five years or 10 years’ time, ev­ery­body is still talk­ing about judo at the Com­mon­wealth Games in Glas­gow,” said Bur­ton, who is em­ployed seven days a week as high per­for­mance coach at the sportscot­land in­sti­tute of sport. “If, in 10 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.

“What I hope peo­ple are say­ing in 10 years’ time is ‘wasn’t that a good plat­form for the sport, and now we have an Olympic medal­ist, or an Olympic or world cham­pion’,” he added. “The Com­mon­wealth Games were 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 but we have never done it at Olympic level. Our as­pi­ra­tions are to be top of the tree.”

This, it must be said, is no easy feat. The qual­i­fi­ca­tion stan­dard for Rio next sum­mer in­volves be­ing ranked in the top 22 ath­letes in each par­tic­u­lar weight cat­e­gory, although the task is eased some­what by the fact that com­pet­ing na­tions can nom­i­nate only one par­tic­i­pant. As for the world cham­pi­onships, Bur­ton’s bronze medal in the -81kg cat­e­gory on the sport’s sa­cred ground of Tokyo back in 2010 was the last piece of pre­cious me­tal which any Bri­tish judoka has cel­e­brated. The Olympics, of course, vis­its the Ja­panese cap­i­tal again in 2020, where mar­tial arts will take cen­tre stage.

“If peo­ple had no chance of win­ning a medal then we wouldn’t be send­ing them,” in­sists Bur­ton. “We would send them to events we feel they could medal at. As for the Olympic Games in Rio, it is al­most as hard to qual­ify as it is to medal. The process is so dif­fi­cult, par­tic­u­larly if you come from Europe, that if you qual­ify then you re­ally have got a shout. If we qual­ify two play­ers we have two shouts. But we could qual­ify any­thing up to six to seven play­ers from this cen­tre [Ed­in­burgh], and that would be six or seven shouts. So yes I would be dis­ap­pointed if we came away from Rio with­out a medal.”

While the move from par­tic­i­pant to coach has in­volved some tran­si­tion, Bur­ton reck­ons he would de­rive as much sur­ro­gate suc­cess from that as any­thing. It is worth point­ing out at this point that his wife Gemma (nee Gib­bons), af­ter sil­ver at the Lon­don Olympics in 2012, is also work­ing to­wards a sec­ond Olympic medal in Rio.

“My coach­ing jour­ney has been two or three years; my ath­letic ca­reer within judo was not far off 30 years,” said Bur­ton. “Even when I was a six or seven year old and I was just start­ing up in the sport, I knew about this thing called the Olympic Games which was the spec­ta­cle in the sport. At that time I never thought I would get any­where near it. I got sev­enth – I wouldn’t say I got that close.

“But I know from peo­ple who had tiny pieces of im­pact into Gemma’s ca­reer that they feel a lot of pride that they played a part, even if it was just when she was a ten-year-old child and stepped into their club two or three times,” he added. “So if you are ac­tu­ally coach­ing some­body who gets a medal I feel it would be a fan­tas­tic feel­ing. As a coach, you can’t fight their fights for them. You can’t do their train­ing for them. But you can give them some help on the jour­ney.”

While Bur­ton, vet­eran Sarah Clark and Louise Renicks, one part of a golden Com­mon­wealth Coat­bridge dou­ble act with her sis­ter Kim­berly, have all moved out of day-to-day ac­tion in the sport, home hope­fuls Andy Burns (-90kg) and Pa­trick Daw­son (-73kg) will be look­ing for cru­cial Rio qual­i­fi­ca­tion points. Their com­pe­ti­tion in­cludes other Com­mon­wealth Games cham­pi­ons such as Ash­ley McKen­zie (-60kg), Owen Livesey (-81kg) and Danny Wil­liams (-73kg), and emerg­ing young Scot­tish tal­ents like Neil Mac­Don­ald (-60kg), Stu­art McWatt (-81kg) and Valentino Volante (+100kg).

The third Euro­pean Open in suc­ces­sive years in Glas­gow also prom­ises to be a lit­mus test as to whether the event will con­tinue at the Emi­rates Arena mov­ing for­ward. “With my Judo Scot­land hat on I would love it to stay in Scot­land. It is a great event and we put it on very well,” he said. “The play­ers love fight­ing there.”

And what about that flag? Is it fly­ing proudly in his back gar­den in his na­tive Ed­in­burgh? “I didn’t get to keep the flag, no,” said Bur­ton. “But I have got a Scot­tish flag with lots of dif­fer­ent sig­na­tures from the open­ing cer­e­mony. And lots of pic­tures of me with the flag, which is nice. And thank­fully I didn’t stand on or trip up over the Scot­tie dog, which very nearly hap­pened!”

FLY­ING THE FLAG: Euan Bur­ton car­ried the Scot­tish saltire at the open­ing cer­e­mony of the 2014 Com­mon­wealth Games

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