Skelley looks to end his career in style in Paris

Day 3 IJF Judo Grand Prix Zagreb 2023
Day 3 IJF Judo Grand Prix Zagreb 2023

Change has brought new challenges for Chris Skelley but that’s nothing new for the Paralympic judo champion as he bids to end his career in style in Paris next year.

The Hull judoka’s life has changed considerably since he clinched gold in Tokyo in 2021.

He’s now a married man - to fellow Paralympian Louise Hunt - and new weight categories have led to bigger challenges on the tatami.

The -100kg category that the 29-year-old dominated two years ago has been replaced with +90kg, meaning Skelley will now have to grapple bigger judokas than before.

Yet the Yorkshire native is unwavering in his quest to surmount this final hurdle before he draws the curtain on a glittering career.

“I am in a new category, so I am now the chasing pack again,” said Skelley. “I am the chaser, I am the hunter, and I am trying to hunt down that gold medal.

“I love overcoming new challenges, my whole life has been challenges in different ways and I have always had to overcome them.

“This is just another challenge for me to overcome and I am really enjoying the different people I am fighting. It’s a little bit tougher because I have gone up a weight category; I am fighting the big boys now.

“This has been my life; I have always had to overcome something. I always get knocked down, get myself back up again.

“That’s literally what judo is, and you take that mentality to whatever you are doing and hopefully success will come.”

Success would be a gold medal in Paris in 12 months’ time, an achievement that would make him the first British Paralympic judoka to go back-to-back since Simon Jackson a quarter of a century ago.

It would be the perfect way to end what will be Skelley’s final bow on the mat, but he insists he is not thinking that far ahead just yet.

“Let’s just stick to what’s in front of us, keep focused, keep relaxed and enjoy the ride because most likely it’s going to be my last dance and I want to enjoy every moment,” he added.

“I have loved what I have done, I have loved representing my country, I have loved meeting people on this wonderful journey, and I am just trying to enjoy the moment.

“I am very lucky to do what I am doing; I am very grateful to British Judo for believing in me and trusting me to represent our country.”

Skelley is one of over 1,000 elite athletes on UK Sport’s National Lottery-funded World Class Programme, allowing him to train full time, have access to the world’s best coaches and benefit from pioneering medical support – this is vital for his pathway to the Paris 2024 Games.

With the Paris 2024 Paralympics only one year away, the Games are set to inspire people and communities all across the country. Skelley hopes that by sharing his story it will give others motivation to get involved into sport.

Something else new in Paris will be the gold medal from Tokyo sitting at home.

Skelley became the first Briton since Jackson in 1996 to win Paralympic judo gold with victory over the USA’s Ben Goodrich two years ago, earning an MBE a year later.

Yet while he insists he is still part of the chasing pack, there is no doubt Skelley will arrive in France with the pedigree only Paralympic glory can bestow.

“You take stuff from it but as soon as Tokyo finished, I wiped the slate clean and start again,” he said.

“I am trying to improve on what I did before, make sure that I leave no stone unturned. For me to be on top I have to have a very confident day and a lot of belief in myself.

“You constantly want to improve yourself. You want to be the best person you can be, constantly improve and that involves finding different ways of training that suit you.

“It’s a constant battle of improvement and making sure you are in the best shape.

“I want to be better than the Chris Skelley from Tokyo. I have 12 months to improve myself not just as an athlete but as a person.”

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