British judoka Christopher Skelley was in disbelief as he completed an emotional 11-year journey to win -100kg gold at the Nippon Budokan on the final day of the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic judo competition on Sunday.
Nottingham native Skelley, 28, agonizingly lost his bronze medal contest at the Rio 2016 Paralympics but won European gold on home soil in Walsall in 2017 and claimed bronze at the 2018 Worlds as he arrived in Tokyo as the world number one.
The recent IBSA Judo Warwick Grand Prix bronze medalist defeated USA’s Ben Goodrich – and has now won all four of their head-to-head clashes - in the gold medal contest with a sole waza-ari score, the second highest in judo, from a tomoe-nage (circle throw).
“It’s been a long road for the last 11 years, it was hard after Rio 2016,” said the Brit who will marry wheelchair tennis player Louise Hunt in 2022.
“It’s put a big target on my back, so I needed to get here and train even harder to stay where I am.
“Eleven years ago, I was at the darkest part of my life because there was nothing left for me. The only thing that was left was my judo.
“To have that come true today, I can’t believe it.”
Skelley, who took up judo at the age of five and is a product of Haltemprice Judo Club, was working as an apprentice car mechanic when his vision started to deteriorate and he was let go from that job.
“That was the darkest part. Working towards it and having it just whisked away.
“I never expected to do this as a job. It’s my hobby.
“I love it because I love judo. And to stand here and talk to you now as a Paralympic champion, I’m lost for words. I just want a pork pie.”
British Judo Paralympic Head Coach Ian Johns said: “This couldn’t have happened to a more amazing guy, he is one of the most beautiful people both inside and out. He is genuine to the core and has trained relentlessly for this moment ever since the heartache of Rio. The national training center has given him the opportunity to continue his development and has made him the world class fighter he is today.”
Skelley started his Tokyo 2020 competition with a first round bye and then submitted Uzbekistan’s London 2012 Paralympic silver medalist Sharif Khalilov in the quarter-finals with a ude-hishigi-juji-gatame (cross armlock).
The Briton beat Germany’s three-time Paralympian Oliver Upmann in the semi-finals by ippon (the maximum and match-ending score) with a ko-soto-gake (small outer hook) having opened the scoring with a waza-ari score from a trademark tomoe-nage (circle throw).
ParalympicsGB’s second judo medalist in Tokyo, Skelley, who followed the -90kg silver medal of Elliot Stewart, the son of the 1988 Seoul Olympic judo bronze medalist Dennis Stewart, has competed in fully sighted judo competitions in his homeland and even earned a bronze medal at the 2017 British Championships.
Speaking about the gold medal contest at Tokyo 2020, Skelley said he had to grind out the win and that while it didn’t necessarily make for compelling viewing the greatest prize in Paralympic judo was on the line.
“I’m pretty relieved because it was an awful fight. It was just a dogged, horrible fight.
“Ben Goodrich is a fantastic athlete and he pushed me all the way.”
When asked about the future and a potential Paris 2024 tilt and his upcoming marriage, Skelley spoke of his number one priority when he returns home as a Paralympic champion.
“That doesn’t matter, I’ve still got to go home and look after the dog.”