A new adventure
Last Updated: September 25, 2012 9:31am
Euan Burton: Due to be a high performance coach for the SportScotland institute of sport
I'm sitting on a bus being transferred from an airport in Italy, through Slovenia, to a hotel in Croatia for yet another judo event. Just another day in the life of a judoka. Something I have been doing for not far off 20 years as a member of a British Team. So why does this feel so strange?
It's strange, and I'm considerably more nervous than I have been as a competitor for a long time, because I'm not thinking about making my weight, or about who my first round opponent might be. This time I am questioning whether I have remembered my shoes and tie for my suit and whether the accommodation funds have been properly transferred.
This is because, for the first time in all those years, I am not travelling towards this tournament as a competitor. It's the 2012 Junior European Championships and I am here at my very first major as a coach!
I have not yet started in my official capacity as a high performance coach for the SportScotland institute of sport however one of our young players, Conall McGregor, has been selected to represent Great Britain in the -81kg division and I suppose the powers that be must have thought that there isn't anyone in the country much better equipped to help an 81kg fighter at a tournament than someone who has been at every senior World and European championships for the past decade. So here I am.
My hope is that Conall, and the rest of the British players, can continue on from the positive example set by the TeamGB and ParalympicsGB judo teams and return to the UK with a whole host of medals. The next few days will see whether that scenario unfolds or not.
The Olympic Games has been an incredible experience for the whole country. It has seen Britain shining not just on the track, in the pool or at the velodrome but also as a nation capable of delivering something unique and special for the whole world to savour.
The Games has been dissected and discussed by those far more eloquent than me so I will not talk about the national pride, volunteer success or potential legacy from the games.
I will just talk about the judo.
Overall the judo in London was a rip-roaring success. The organisation was the best I have ever seen and the crowds were awe-inspiring from the first hajime on day 1 to the final matte on that 7th evening. There was high drama and controversy. There were stunning ippons and nail biting decisions. There were some favourites atop the rostrum yet there were also upsets in abundance. And for TeamGB there were medals. For the first time in 12 years there were medals. Two of them. And the first medal in those 12 years went to a very special lady. My girlfriend Gemma Gibbons.
Gemma stormed through the -78kg (weighing just 72kg) and on her way disposed of a Current European medallist, World Number 7, former World Champion AND reigning World Champion before finally coming unstuck in a close fought final to another former World Champion. As if that wasn't impressive enough she did it all with a broken thumb that she sustained in her second match. She was rightly the judo star of the Games for doing what I always say you must do to win at the highest level. She left it all out there on the mat.
From my side I'm sure that everyone reading this will want to hear my version of my event at the Olympic Games. It's very difficult for me to do that here as I haven't yet been able to have the time that I think I need to assess and come to terms with what happened.
You can use words like disappointed, gutted, devastated as many times as you want but they don't come close to describing the depth of the hurt that I feel when thinking about my Olympic experience. What I can say is that any time I think back to that day my stomach drops and I feel an emptiness creep its way into my heart. It's not a nice thing and I wouldn't wish it upon anyone but I understand that it is a by-product of how much I put into the preparation for that day and of how much that Olympic success meant to me.
I have been told by countless people since the Games how great an achievement being part of that team is. How fantastic it is to be an Olympian and to represent TeamGB. How proud I should feel of what I have achieved in judo and of how I conducted myself in the aftermath of the defeat. I can understand why people say these things.
First they believe it and secondly of course they want to say something positive to me. However every top level athlete will understand that when you achieve a level, that level barely even exists and the only focus is getting to the next step. For me I have won medals at every level of national and international judo and have already been an Olympian. The only stage left was to be an Olympic medallist and Olympic champion.
I'm fairly sure that dream has now gone. I'm 33 years old and with all the will in the world I'm not sure another 4 years of one of the most demanding sports imaginable is realistic.
As I said earlier I am out in Croatia coaching and that is where I will focus much of my attention now. I begin a role as a High Performance Coach with the Scottish Institute of Sport in a few weeks and I am really looking forward to the challenge. We have a fantastic coaching and support team there and some talented and extremely hard working athletes who it will be a pleasure to work with.
As far as competing, the sun may not yet have set entirely on my career as I am toying with the idea of competing at 90kg, the division above my usual 81kg category, but will only do that if I feel I can without negatively impacting my ability to perform at the highest levels as a coach.
There is a little event in Scotland in 2014 and who knows, without the dieting for 81kg perhaps I will make a run at finishing my career there?!
Whatever happens I have had an unforgettable time in judo. I have met, and continue to meet, some of my closest friends and most respected colleagues through the sport. Win or lose, tears of joy or tears of sadness I love this sport to its very core.
So for all you judoka out there I hope you enjoyed a wonderful Olympic Games and are looking forward to chucking your judogi back on as soon as possible.
And for those of you who don't YET call yourselves judoka... What are you waiting for? Get on that Gi, tie a belt around your waist and step forward onto the mat with a bow. It will change your life for the better. I promise you that.