Resilience and respect were the order of the day as we met up with Judo star and soon to be triple Olympian, Winston Gordon, to find out what makes him tick and why this could finally be his time to shine on home soil this summer.
Great Britain have never won a Judo Gold medal at the Olympics and it’s been more than ten years and three Games since they won any medal. It was Kate Howey at the Sydney Games in 2000 that won silver but we have to look as far back as Barcelona in 1992 for the last male medal, Raymond Stevens fighting his way to silver.
Gordon should have claimed at least silver at the 2004 games in Athens but for a mistake that saw him put his foot out of the mat and penalized, giving his opponent Zurab Zviadaurdi, enough points for victory and he went on to lose the bronze medal match as well. When asked abut the fight, Gordon still has regrets, ‘There are times I do have flashbacks. 2004 was obviously out of my hands but I had two bites of the apple [for a medal] and really and truly it should have been my time.’
Four years later in Beijing he was injured in the run up to the Olympics and was unable to prepare properly. He made it to the games but failed to place. This time he hopes to use the pain of 2004 to drive him on and although he has already had one serious chance of gold he still believes he can another chance, ‘Im not saying that this can’t be my time either. It gives me that fire in my belly to put it right. I’m not superstitious but maybe third time lucky this could be the one!’
A Commonwealth Games Gold medalist in 2002, Gordon has been plagued by injuries ever since. A full knee reconstruction put him out of action for almost a year in 2002 and he had the same operation in 2008 following the Beijing games. With just days to go until the start of the London Games, however, he is fully fit and preparation this time around has been spot on, ‘I’ve just had ten days with the national team, just the last final high loading process which I’m quite happy with.’
The reason he has been able to prepare so well is largely due to the team behind him, Balance Physio. They have been working with Gordon for over ten years now since his first major injury in 2002 and he cites them as a key influence on his recovery and current fitness. ‘We’ve got a good team and I’m in good shape. Obviously there’s been some bumpy roads on the way and I’m coming through that and seeing the back side of that hopefully. Balance have been helping me out a lot so by August 1st I’ll be ready.’
Graham Anderson, the Chief Physiotherapist to the All England Lawn Tennis Club, heads up the team at Balance and they are at the forefront of injury recovery and prevention, which has particularly helped Gordon in his quest. Scott Morris, the Performance Director, who said that Gordon is, ‘in the form of his life,’ spoke of the importance of resilience in the sport of Judo.
This is something Gordon also emphasized, particularly the mental aspect of the sport. ‘When you’re in a combat situation you’re trying to execute a throw and keeping the mental focus. You know it’s going to come, all the hard work you have put in, you will get that end result eventually.’ He went on to explain how this focus, with the help of Balance, has allowed him to get back to his best and concluded that, ‘I think resilience helps you to implement everything around the sport.’
So what will it mean to compete in the Olympics on home soil? Well, for Gordon it doesn’t get any better, ‘It’s just going to be amazing, it’s a great honour to represent your country but to actually compete in the games on your home soil is more than anybody can expect.’ And for the sport of Judo, there is hope that it will be bring a new influx of interest and increase in participation numbers. As recently as April this year over £300,000 of cuts were announced in the British Judo Association’s budget following static participation figures for the last two years.
Gordon hope that these games will change all that. ‘Getting that medal, either myself or any of the other 13 athletes, will boost Judo through the roof. I think those who aren’t aware of judo will look at it and see it’s a great sport.’ It’s a vicious circle though, without the success there is no publicity and participation numbers will not rise, meaning funding is cut. Many have argued that increased funding would bring the success and with it increased numbers.
Either way one of the key things that Judo has taught Gordon is discipline, something which he feels there is not enough of in today’s society, ‘for the youth of today it’s needed.’ Recently he has been back at his old school, Ernest Bevin College, helping to teach the next generation, ‘I’ve seen a lot of changes with the pupils in this school. If we can have that all around the country we can have a different form of attitude.’
Respect is another key message that Gordon has learnt, ‘in Judo, you have to respect the people on the mat, if you are not respecting the people on the mat then you shouldn’t be on the mat. Sometimes there are boys who don’t get on with each other but that goes out of the window on the mat. It’s love on the mat.’
It will take a British medal, preferably gold, for Judo to get the publicity that it needs to be recognized more and Gordon hopes that home advantage will prove the difference, ‘just one person getting that medal will push Judo through the roof. It’s a great chance on home soil, I can’t empathize that enough. Home soil, home crowd, that will push all the athletes through and someone, hopefully me, can bring back that medal.’
His final preparation will involve studying the other opponents in the 90kg category on video and leaving no stone unturned. He says that it’s the small things that can often make the difference, ‘especially when the contest is close, when it’s nip and tuck you’ve got to have that little thing in your head to override their confidence and break them in the best way you can to win that match.’
At 35, this is likely to be Gordon’s last shot at Olympic glory, although he doesn’t rule out the possibility of competing in the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in 2014. ‘There’s a possibility that I could go on. There’s a carrot there dangling for me. The last one was 2002, so maybe 2014 might be a possibility.’
For now though, the focus is all on London. Gordon’s event is all completed on one day, 1st August, at the ExCel centre. Greece’s Ilias Iliadis is the favourite but Gordon has made it through the pain to get this far and who would bet against him completing the fairytale ending.