Niamh tipped to emulate two-time Olympian Oates
Twenty-one years ago, a young Colin Oates set his sights on the Olympic Games after winning Pre-Cadet gold at the British Judo Championships.
Talented and determined in equal measure, the Kumo Judo Club member went on to realise that ambition, representing Great Britain at London 2012 and in Rio de Janeiro last year before announcing his retirement in September.
Now, though, the Lopham and Diss-based club has a new rising star on its books — one that coach Howard Oates, Colin’s father, believes could go on to emulate and perhaps even surpass the two-time Olympian.
Niamh Southgate, 13, has been pretty much untouchable in her field over the last two years.
Undefeated at home and abroad during that time, the youngster followed up her recent Flanders Cup success in Belgium by winning the Pre-Cadet event at the British Championships earlier this month — the same feat Commonwealth Games champion Oates achieved in 1996.
It was the manner of the victory that left her coach, Oates senior, particularly excited for the future, with the 2024 Olympics in Paris and the Games four years later in Los Angeles now the target.
“I have no hesitation in saying she is better than Colin was at the same age,” said Oates.
“Colin has seen clips of her and he has said exactly the same thing.
“She won the British Champs at a canter without ever really needing to get out of second gear.
“Colin was obviously very good at the same age, but there was always a little bit of nerves about whether he would win or not. He always had to work very hard.
“But there is never any danger with Niamh — she never seems threatened.
“It is difficult to predict what is going to happen with a 13-year-old girl. Sometimes they find other interests and other sports.
“But Niamh has a great family behind her and I think she will stick with it.
“If she does, we have to be looking at the Olympics. Paris would be a possibility but might be too soon. Come Los Angeles, though, she should be at her peak.”
And Southgate — one of 10 siblings, five of whom compete for the Kumo Judo Club — is determined to prove her coach right.
The teenager said: “I am not over confident when I compete, but I have no doubts.
“There is nothing else I want to do other than judo.
“I want to go to World Championships and Olympics and hopefully win gold medals.”
Right behind their daughter are Southgate’s parents, who travel to every competition with their children.
A judoka with Southgate’s potential could quite easily become complacent, but her father, Lloyd, believes the family dynamic helps to keep the youngster’s feet firmly on the floor.
“What she has achieved so far is exceptional and it is exciting when you think about what she might go on to achieve,” he said.
“She has to stay grounded and she does. Being one of 10 children helps with that, but she is naturally that way as well.
“You see it when she is up on the podium getting a medal — she always looks composed.
“She works very hard and trains at least three or four times a week.
“We, as parents, are very proud of what she has achieved, as we are of all our children when they are competing.”