WHEN former World and European Champion Craig Fallon announced he would be coming out of retirement to challenge for Team GB’s single spot in the under-66kg category at the London 2012 Olympics, Colin Oates’ previously safe place looked under serious threat.
But the Diss-based fighter has since upped his game to ensure he is in pole position to carry the nation’s hopes next summer, after recording his best season on judo’s elite competition circuit.
His first medal at a European Championships, bronze in Istanbul in April, was followed with a bronze World Cup medal in Bucharest in May and then, most importantly, fifth place in the World Championships in Paris last month.
With Fallon having crashed out in the first round in France, Oates, now up to 26th in the world rankings, has now taken a major step towards London 2012 selection, with only results in major competitions between now and April deciding who is in the Great Britain Olympic spot in their category.
“If I am honest it has been a good thing for me,” said North Lopham resident Oates of former British number one Fallon’s re-emergence in the sport. “Since he made the decision to move weights (up from 60kg to 66kg) it has seen me have my best year.
“Sometimes you need to find that extra gear to push you on.
“When I heard about Craig coming back I knew I had to work harder and push on and he is now struggling and I am in a very good position.”
Even though it is tantalisingly close, the 28-year-old is trying to concentrate on his performances in the events leading up to the Olympics, to ensure he does qualify, rather than looking ahead to the Games themselves.
He said: “If I am honest, I try not to focus too much on 2012.
“Even up until last year I did not have European or world results, so I have just been trying to improve my judo but after what I have achieved this year I am definitely capable of being a strong competitor at the Games.
“It helps not to focus on 2012 as form in between can slip as you fast forward to the Games.
“The most important thing is to be there with a chance.”
Oates, who failed to reach the qualification mark for the Beijing Olympics in 2008, is now deciding whether to fight in the GB World Cup, at the Echo Arena in Liverpool in October, or head to the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
Results over a Grand Slam event in Tokyo, in December, followed by another in Paris, in February, and finally the European Championships next April, will decide the Diss Kumo Judo Club member’s Olympic fate.
Should Oates, coached by his father Howard Oates and British number one for the last year in his weight category, secure his place, he does admit a medal is firmly in his mind.
“When everyone starts this cycle, everyone is looking at an Olympic medal and a medal at your home Olympics makes it a little more special,” he said.
“If I maintain my improvement level between now and the Games I have got a really good chance.”