Exclusive: Newly crowned European champion Skelley predicts bright future for British judo stars
Chris Skelley is a man on a mission – European gold has given him a taste for success and he won’t stop until he reaches the top.
Judoka Skelley narrowly missed out on bronze at last year’s Paralympic Games in Rio, edged out in a tactical fight for the medals with Cuba’s Yodani Sastre.
And while he admits the pain of his podium miss may still take some time to subside, his targets are set firmly on making amends come the Tokyo Paralympics in three years' time.
He started that campaign in memorable style at the weekend, winning -100kg gold at the IBSA European Judo Championships in Walsall.
The 23-year-old beat Malik Kurbanov of Russia with an ippon to claim the title, as Great Britain finished fifth in the medal table with Natalie Greenhough also winning -70kg bronze.
It’s an achievement he admits has yet to sink in, but one he insists is the start of great things to come on the road to Tokyo.
“It’s absolutely brilliant to be European champion. It’s still quite surreal and I haven’t had much time to celebrate it,” he said.
“We always knew it was possible to win the gold, but there are some good lads in my category.
“There was a good chance of me winning it, but there was also a good chance of me not getting anywhere, because some of them are very hard to beat.
“Nothing will ever soften the blow of missing out on bronze in Rio – being so close to a Paralympic medal was very heartbreaking.
“A European medal is one of the stepping stones, the next is the World Championships and then it’s the Paralympics again in 2020.
“We’ll take those stepping stones one-by-one, and hopefully I can replicate my European gold at the World Championships next year.”
"It looks like a really promising future for the team. There is so much talent coming through" Chris Skelley
While Great Britain may have missed out on more medals at the European Championships, Skelley is only too confident that a bright future lies ahead for the nation’s young judo stars.
And with Rio experience already under his belt, he is already counting down the days to his next Paralympic adventure in 2020.
“We have a very young team. We’ve got some youngsters and some newbies, with the likes of Evan [Molloy] and Connah [Anders],” he said.
“Yes there were no more medals, apart from mine and Natalie’s, but I am more than sure that at other competitions, they will all take medals as well.
“Having this experience will be so important for them. Jack, Natalie and I have already been to the Paralympics and that’s one of the biggest stages you can go to.
“For the youngsters, they need that exposure. It’s good for them to have a competition like the Europeans at home, in front of a home crowd and with lots of home support.
“It looks like a really promising future for the team. There is so much talent coming through, some of the juniors are medalling in senior events and the top seeds are doing really well.
“I can see us doing really well at the next Paralympics, because we have some really incredible athletes who can really go and do the business.”