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Scottish judo is now grappling with an uncertain future despite medal euphoria

J UDO'S mat finish at the Commonwealth Games has put a high-gloss gilt on the 2014 medal table.

Chris Sherrington, top, and his fellow Team Scotland judo players show off their medals. Picture: SNS
Chris Sherrington, top, and his fellow Team Scotland judo players show off their medals. Picture: SNS

Scotland may never see it burnished so brightly again. Judo is not on the 2018 programme and the current team will be past its sell-by date come 2022 when there is no guarantee it will return. The only times judo has been included were in 1990 (eight medals) and 2002 (ten).

Sportscotland were quick to flag up investment of £2.5m over the past four years, but could not confirm last night whether such a level of funding would continue when the sport is no longer contested. Non-Games sports do not normally attract the same level of funding.

A spokesman expressed delight at how the sport's record 13 medals had "exceeded expectations and maximised potential", but added that all 17 sports face a case-by-case post-Games review and declined to pre-judge.

"There is still 2016 in Rio," he said, stating that 35% of the 2012 Olympic judo team and 20% of the Paralympic players trained at Ratho. "We're looking to continue investment . . . irrespective of what the people of Scotland may decide in the [independence] referendum."

The national judo centre at Ratho has become a Mecca for British players. Northern Ireland and England have benefited with a 2014 medallist of each colour training there. Scotland's judo squad is the most successful in Games history. Japan were the inventors of the sport but never dominated Olympic judo to this extent.

Scotland's 13 medals in 14 categories (six gold, two silver, five bronze) surpassed the record of 12 set by swimming in Melbourne (six, three, three) and was achieved with far fewer shots at the podium. There are 60 aquatic finals, including 10 in diving, with up to 3% (except relays). But there are only 14 medal events in judo, and only 14 athletes may be entered.

Team leader Graeme Randall, the former world and Commonwealth champion, said the funding had made all the difference, and according to national coach David Somerville, some of the 2014 squad would have not made the team if the Games had been 12 months from now. "Some of the younger athletes, I think, might have kept some of these guys out. If we talk legacy, younger players are pushing all the time."

This was a team packed with role models of every description, almost half of them born in England. James Millar, twice an Olympic reserve, was called in as a late replacement. The man from Invergordon lost to the highest-ranked player, but got back via the repechage and won bronze.

Standard-bearer Euan Burton publicly castigated himself after London 2012. By failing to win Olympic gold, he said he had let down himself, his family and his sport. Gold in his final contest can never replace something he had worked towards for 20 years. He will now coach the national team and still work on the mat, but not competitively.

In 6ft 5ins, 130-kilo Royal Marine Chris Sherrington, Scotland has a giant personality. At school he was called "Big Foot" and hated judo. "I was bullied as a child at school. I was not always this size," he said.

"I was kind of chubby, a very odd-shaped kid. I've got size-15 feet and looked a bit like Bambi. I did get a lot of stick for it. I got halfway through school, kind of cracked a wee bit and then I started beating the bullies up. It got me into a lot of trouble.

"I was the chubby kid who couldn't do judo, couldn't do anything. Now I've been to the Olympics and I'm Commonwealth champion. That shows how judo can turn you around. I'd never have got back into the sport if it wasn't for my green beret. Eight-and-a-half months of the world's hardest training changes you physically and mentally. It make you tougher, stronger . . . allows you to do things you never thought you'd be able to.

"I always wanted to be a soldier. My grandad was in WWII, in the Paras [paratroopers]. He went behind enemy lines, got bayonetted and stuff. Unfortunately he had an alcohol problem," added Sherrington, choked and welled with emotion. "He was called Wally . . . and I always looked up to him because he'd been in the war.

"He had a lot of medals but we could never get out of him what he did, because he was always quite comatose and drank himself to death before I joined up. I wish I could have talked to him about his experiences.

"After the London Olympics, my wife dragged me along to a fortune-teller. To be honest, I never believe these things but some of the stuff said in there was like my grandad was in the room, so it kind of spurred me on to do the Commonwealth Games. It was eye-opening. She mentioned going round to his house and she said he apologised for being drunk."

Sherrington has seen active service in Iraq, "but never came under fire", he said, describing his size 15s as "a bit of a mine magnet".

He played rugby at Wigan with Corporal Liam Elms, killed in Helmand by an improvised bomb. He choked up again as he confessed he helped persuade him to join up. He wants to visit his family after the Games.

Will he continue in judo? "I have to speak with my bosses. Part of me kind of wants to go back and be with the boys. I really miss it. I miss holding my rifle, getting my uniform on. I have been a long time out. You can't be a Royal Marine at 130 kilos; I'm far too heavy. I've got to run 30 miles and could not do it in the time needed, with the kit - about 60 kilos. Being a big guy, I get the signal batteries and GPMG rounds."

Born in Ormskirk - almost half of this team were born in England - he lives in Broxburn. He says people cannot choose where they are born, but can choose where to live. Scots are good at judo, he said, "because we love a grind . . . stay in it to the end because we are stubborn. Fight, fight. That's what makes us strong".

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