A medal-winning display has given Colin Oates the perfect preparation as he aims to get the remaining points to seal his Olympic qualification.
Having endured a difficult return to action following an injury lay-off with a shock first round exit at a Grand Slam event in Croatia earlier this month, the North Lopham-raised judo star bounced back in style to win silver at another Grand Slam event, the inaugural European Games in Baku, Azerbaijan.
He enjoyed notable victories over Russian Anzaur Ardanov and former European champion Sugoi Uriarte, before suffering a stunning last-minute defeat to home favourite Nijat Shikhalizada.
Despite missing out on a memorable victory, the 31-year-old was left delighted after his performance earned him a valuable 150 Olympic qualification points to see him within touching distance of the Games in Rio De Janeiro next year.
“My first comeback in Croatia was a bit of a hiccup but in Baku I was really pleased with my overall performance and it was great to be among the points again,” he said.
“I didn’t fight particularly badly in Croatia but I got caught from nowhere. My opponent was a bit of an unknown quantity and so I didn’t expect what happened. In judo it only takes one mistake.
“However, Baku was much better and coming second gave me 300 world ranking points which importantly is 150 Olympic qualification points.
“That only leaves me around 200 short of qualification for the Olympics, so I have a really good chance of getting there now.
“That is a huge pressure off my shoulders and it also helps maintain my funding through the next year, which is great.
“It was pleasing as well because the Grand Slam events are some of the hardest and it has also given me a massive step towards Olympic qualification.”
His performance also guaranteed Oates a place in the World Masters tournament in Morocco next week where a similar outcome would all but secure his place a the Olympics, a point not lost on the judoka.
“The Masters is another big opportunity to get some more points with 350 on offer for winning it,” he added.
“If I can win my first fight then I should be guaranteed some points and if I can qualify for the final then I would get the rest of my points needed.
“That is definitely my target. If I can qualify for the Olympics early then I can start preparing early which is a massive benefit.
“I have a great opportunity to get the points I need but like in Croatia there is always a risk of losing unexpectedly.
“However, I’d like to think I could win a medal and get the qualification points I need.”