London 2012: Moment of truth for Colin Oates

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COLIN Oates’ day of destiny has finally arrived.

COLIN Oates’ day of destiny has finally arrived.

After a near decade-long rise towards the top, the Lopham-based judo player is ready to stand tall and fend off all challengers in his quest for the greatest sporting prize on the planet.

The 29-year-old goes for Olympic gold on Sunday at London’s 10,000-seater ExCeL Centre with the hopes of himself, his family, the Diss area and Great Britain resting on his shoulders.

“The Olympics has been a long time coming for me,” he said. “I have had 10 years at the top level trying to get to the Olympic Games, so becoming an Olympian is a fulfilment of my ambition.”

With the main chunk of his training complete, Oates is now ready to face his first challenger in the opening round of the men’s under-66kg judo competition on Sunday (9.30am), due to be drawn yesterday.

The unseeded Brit will bid to battle from the preliminaries to the semi-finals during the morning, where he can then focus on joining the medal party and the elite of world sport by owning an Olympic prize.

“Judo is a tough sport so you can never pick a favourite and it normally throws up a surprise,” he said. “I’d like to be among that final block in the afternoon and concentrate on getting a medal.”

Oates’ stock in the world of judo is on the rise.

He finally broke into the thoughts of the world’s best during 2011 when he won European bronze and finished fifth at the World Championships, a whisker away from gaining a medal.

“Going so close in the World Championships has helped me through the past six to eight months,” he added. “It’s been one of the things I have done to make me believe I can be among the medals as part of the world’s best.

“My bronze at the European Championships has helped me as well – they have shown me what I need to do to be among the medals.

“Last year I cemented myself as a good player within Europe – the next stage is world level and I’ve been close in some of the Grand Slams, like taking fifth in Paris at the start of the year.”

The top two seeds – Tsagaanbaatar Khashbaatar (Mongolia) and Musa Mogushkov (Russia) – represent the biggest threat to Oates’ hopes of stunning the sporting world to take gold, while reigning world champion Masashi Ebinuma (Japan) is also in the mix.

Oates thought he had beaten top seed Mogushkov in a Grand Slam event in Japan last year when he threw him, but the bout was controversially continued and the Russian hit back to win.

Despite being considered an outsider for a medal, Oates – ranked 26th in the world at the end of the Olympic qualifying process – is taking inspiration from British judo legend Graeme Randall in his bid for gold.

The Scot was victorious at the 1999 World Judo Championships, beating four judo players he had never beaten before and never beat again.

“If you want to get among the medals you will probably have to beat a seeded player before you get there,” said Oates, who is bidding to become Britain’s first Olympic medallist in judo since Sydney 2000.

“I have beaten a few seeds, but there are a few I’ve lost to and some I’ve not fought – the draw will be a big factor.”

Something else Oates hopes can push him on to shock the world’s leading judo players is the backing of a partisan, but not expectant, British crowd.

“I do like a crowd and usually fight well under the pressure from a crowd,” he said.

“You can’t clarify what’s going to happen with the crowd, but it is something that could push me on to a great performance.”

Oates added: “We have lower expectations and that draws away the pressure.

“Everyone will be backing us fully, but because of the wait for a judo medal it has taken the pressure off people, which is probably a good thing.”