EIGHT years is a long, long time to wait to defend one’s title. 

For Sarah Adlington, much has happened since she won Commonwealth gold on home soil at Glasgow 2014. 

With judo omitted from the Games programme in 2018, only Adlington and her compatriot and fellow gold medallist, Chris Sherrington, have any previous Commonwealth Games experience, with the other nine Team Scotland squad members all making their Games debut this week in Birmingham. 

Despite her experience, Adlington is in a starkly different place in her career this time around. 

At Glasgow 2014, she had never before been in a multi-sport environment. In contrast, as she prepares to take to the mat at Birmingham 2022, the 35-year-old is safe in the knowledge she is well-versed in what these major events entail having a couple of European Games, as well as an Olympic Games appearance to add to her Commonwealth Games debut in 2014. 

One thing remains the same, however; at Glasgow 2014, she was there to win gold and in Birmingham, she is in no doubt as to her goal when the heavyweight competition takes place today. 

“In Glasgow, I’d had surgery so I hadn’t competed for months before the Games but I feel like winning gold in 2014 was what was meant to happen for me, if I hadn’t won that gold medal, I’d have been absolutely devastated,” the Edinburgh-based fighter says.

“Right now, I’m feeling good. My form this year has been up and down, like normal, but I’m in one piece, I’m feeling confident and I’m looking forward to competing. And this time, I’m going for gold again.” 

Adlington’s form since returning from the Tokyo Olympics last summer has been encouraging. 

She won yet another British title at the tail end of last year while a brace of World Cup quarter-finals and a podium place at April’s European Cup event has cemented her as the top-ranked heavyweight judoka in the Commonwealth. 

“This is judo and anything can happen. I’m very aware of that. If I’m not standing on top of the podium I’ll be absolutely devastated but sport isn’t straightforward, it can be very cruel and in judo, things can turn in a second,” she says.  

“At times, my confidence in my own ability hasn’t always been there. My form and my results have been so up and down and judo has such a knack of making sure you don’t get over-confident about anything.  

“I remember when I finished fifth at the World Championships a few years ago and I went to the next competition thinking I was flying and then I got absolutely battered – judo is such a good leveller in that way, you can never get ahead of yourself or get cocky. 

“But going into Birmingham, I feel like I’ve done everything I can to be ready – you can’t do any more than that.” 

Adlington has been forced to adopt a somewhat different role at these Games. 
Ahead of previous major championships, she has, despite her longevity and consistent success, often been overshadowed somewhat by some of her team-mates in terms of media coverage. 

But ahead of these Games, she has been earmarked as the leading light in Scotland’s judo squad and while that took some time to adapt to, she admits she is eminently comfortable with having the increased pressure on her shoulders that comes from being the elder statesman of the team. 

“There is pressure and outside expectation on me,” she says. “When you’re in your judo bubble, you forget how much things like a Commonwealth medal mean – in Glasgow there were only 19 gold medallists which, in the grand scheme of things, is not a lot. 

“For me, there’s always been people in the team who have maybe had more attention than me whereas this time, it’s been quite different.

“It does add that bit of extra pressure but it’s a nice position to be in.” 

Adlington was born and spent much of her childhood south of the border before relocating to Edinburgh as a teenager. 

These Commonwealth Games will take place a mere hour from Adlington’s birth place but despite being on English soil, she is in no doubt the Scottish support will be considerable, which she is determined to soak up when it is likely she will not have too many more opportunities to fight for Scotland. 

“Being part of Team Scotland always feels different,” she says. 

“I’ve been saying to some of the younger ones that you really need to make the most of these chances because you never know if this will be your last opportunity.  

“Whether trying to make the most of the experience takes away from the performance at all, I don’t know – you just have to get the balance right of soaking it all up but also making sure you perform.”