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Saltire-carrying star Euan Burton bows out on winning note with judo gold

TO the lady, London, to the gentleman, Glasgow.

Chris Sherrington's massive smile sums up the elation of winning gold in the +100kg competition Photograph: Nick Ponty
Chris Sherrington's massive smile sums up the elation of winning gold in the +100kg competition Photograph: Nick Ponty

Two years after watching his fiancee win Olympic silver on what had contrived to be the worst day of his own career, Euan Burton basked in the spotlight for himself, stage-managing the very fondest of farewells.

"That's it: I will never fight another judo fight in my life," he said, smiling, sweat running down his neck, about 10 minutes into the post-fight interviews. At that very moment Gemma Gibbons walked past, with a silver medal around her neck, tears running down her face, and patted her man gently on the backside.

It was a miracle that gesture was spied because for much of last night's final judo session in the SECC there were too many places to look. Another two gold medals followed Burton's, wrought by the big hands of top-weight duo of Sarah Adlington and Chris Sherrington, and that meant history was recorded.

With the most medals for any single sport at a Commonwealth Games - a 13-strong tally - and a tie for the most gold medals - a haul of six - judo is by some distance Team Scotland's banker sport, at least on those rare occasions when the host nation invites it to be on the programme.

This party was started by the tiny Renicks sisters, but it ended with big and broad grins as Adlington and Sherrington made the floor shake with their throws and holds. Adlington only had to win two fights for her gold, with only seven entrants, but her final one was hard-earned against England's Jodie Myers, and nobody can deny her that prize. Sherrington's glory will go down as that bit more memorable. After mastering his South African foe, Ruan Snyman, the ex-Royal Marine saluted all four tribunes, marched off the mat with military pomp and then picked up his coach and flung him into the air. After the medal ceremony he wore a beret, and he will not be quickly forgotten.

Burton kept his emotions together, and there is a reason for that. This was not the stage he had wanted to use to make himself a household name. The Commonwealth Games is relatively easy pickings for British judokas, which is why the organisers made sure it was on the programme in Glasgow.

Olympic medals hang from much higher branches, and that is why the 35-year-old's perfectly-calculated win over Shah Hussain Shah, the young Pakistani, was met with satisfaction but no emotional breakdown. "It's a big relief more than anything else. Tonight and tomorrow there might start to be a little pride and excitement, but it's relief at the moment," said Burton, whose gold medal was the fifth of six for Scotland's judo players at these Games.

"I'm very proud to have played my part as an athlete for the last 15, 20 years with the Scottish judo team, most of the time representing Great Britain but certainly doing that with my Scottish cap on, and I've been on the coaching staff for two years so I'm very proud of the players on the team and all of the people who helped to make what happened this week happen. Thirteen medals out of 14 athletes is a pretty good return.

"I've said it before and I'll say it again: this doesn't make up for London. I've worked my whole life to try and be Olympic champion and I fell short at both Olympic Games that I made it to. This doesn't make up for that, but it's just fantastic and I'm proud to have been able to do it for Scotland and for Judo Scotland."

Another reason Burton, so popular and respected that he was picked to carry the Saltire at the opening ceremony, kept the tears at bay was that he had been able to detach himself from the highs and low of his wife's day. Gibbons, the only 2012 Olympic medallist at these Games, has been robbed of the chance to train and compete for so much of the past two years that her opponent in the final knew she was not the same Gemma Gibbons who won silver and a whole lot of hearts on the banks of the Thames.

It seems no time ago that she was on crutches, nursing a nasty ankle injury and facing the reality of having too much left to do to even qualify for a Team England berth in Glasgow. She got here and more, and won three bouts breezily yesterday, but then succumbed to a clearly stronger and sharper foe, Natalie Powell of Wales, the current British No.1. Throughout the afternoon, the fairytale of a husband-and-wife golden double had seemed very much on. "We both said good luck and spent some time together, but we both had jobs to do today. We were hoping to meet up later with two golds," said Gibbons.

"I came here for one thing and that was gold. It wasn't good enough today, but I still believe I am the best in Britain and I'm a fighter and I will come back."

Burton has reflected before on the perversity of judo fame. At the Olympics he was supposed to prosper, at his peak, and it all went wrong, and he became well known for bearing his soul on TV. Gibbons was a rank outsider and won silver, and became well-known for mouthing the words "thanks mum", a message for the mother she lost as a teenager. He cried for her, cried a bit for himself and yesterday she cried for him, and a bit for herself.

One weight below Burton's category, both of his team-mates made the podium but collected their prizes with differing emotions. Andrew Burns, still with bigger goals and dreams ahead of him and only eight months into his life in Scotland, took a great deal from the consolation of bronze after winning a tight duel with Australia's Mark Anthony.

Matt Purssey had the better day of the two, but like Burton this was his farewell to competitive judo His defeat to the excellent South African Zack Piontek, an African Open winner, was hard to digest.

"I was hoping to go out as a champion but second will have to do, I suppose. It's great for Judo Scotland that we have won 13 medals. Only one of our team hasn't got a medal and he was really close."

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