May 23 2013 Latest news:
Michael Bailey , London Olympics correspondent
Tuesday, July 31, 2012
At one moment on Sunday, everyone was desperate to know how a little-known judoka from North Lopham was getting on down London way.
After the opening-day medal nerves of Team GB hung around in the air, Colin Oates became the first British fighter to win on the judo mats at London 2012.
And then he lifted the lid completely off Excel Arena.
Before his thrilling late victory over Mongolian judo superstar Tsagaanbaatar Khashbaatar it was Oates who was dreaming of an Olympic medal. After his exhilarating five-minute tussle in the last 16, he had a nation right there with him.
Ultimately it wasn’t to be for the 29-year-old 2011 European bronze medallist, who lost to eventual gold medallist Lasha Shavdatuashvili of Georgia in his quarter-final, and then eventual bronze medallist Jun-Ho Cho in his repechage.
But not everyone can win a medal. What Oates can say – and indeed, did – was that he gave it everything he had. Something the 7,000 people watching inside Excel, the crowd at the King’s Arms in North Lopham and indeed millions on television would agree with.
“I’m disappointed with the way I got to that stage and gave myself chance to fight for a medal and the fact I didn’t take that opportunity,” said Oates. “But I think I fought maybe the best I’ve ever fought today.
“The Mongolian in the second fight, I think he’s been the best and most consistent fighter in my weight category over the last two or three years. He’s a world champion, world bronze medallist and has been at the top of the world rankings for maybe 24 months, so it was a really good win to get past him.
“The Georgian fighter was my opportunity because the Korean was always going to be one of the tough fights left. But I went for a big score and it didn’t work out. It was make or break. I either caught him or got caught, as you saw.
“But the atmosphere has been phenomenal. I really hope it spurs on the rest of the guys and girls to take a medal, because with that behind them we’ve got great fighters to come and as you can see with me, upsets are here for taking. The whole of my category, big seeds went out.
“I could pick out a few voices I knew as well – it was excellent to have my family all here and be among it.”
Quarter-final defeat came in golden time to Shavdatuashvili, which meant Oates would have to go through the repechage to gain medal success.
But in his afternoon match, South Korea’s Cho proved just a bit too awkward for him to make any further progress in his under-66kg category.
However, the day had already been one to remember for the Diss fighter – buoyed by a brilliant home crowd and highlighted by his thrilling last-16 victory over much fancied Khashbaatar.
Given a bye through the opening round, Oates won his opener 2-0 with a decent loosener against Australian Ivo dos Santos.
Then came the Mongolian. Oates was on the back foot for plenty of the contest, handed one passivity warning on halfway and coming close to a second that would have handed his Mongolian opponent a point – with the score 0-0 and the clock running down, that would most likely have been enough.
But taking inspiration from the incredible support, Oates turned the match on its head with the only score to lift the roof off the Excel Arena and finally show some raw emotion after projecting a figure of calm up to that point.
“You know what, I said to a few guys that going in I was targeting being in the final block – because my parents had paid for tickets for the afternoon and I didn’t want to waste their money!” joked Oates.
“But it was really a target because I knew once you were in there you have got a chance and for me, It didn’t work out.
“I did really want to take a medal, to inspire a generation, to drag more players into the sport. It is a great discipline for kids and has taught me a lot in life. Maybe with days like this, that will all help. Let’s hope now we can go on and take that medal we want and it goes even further.
“I think once I’ve digested it, seventh at the Olympic Games is a really great achievement for myself. If I look at where I came from 18 months ago, to be seventh at the Olympics is really great.”