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Last Updated: Tuesday, 27 November 2007, 11:09 GMT
Judo star under the microscope
By Andrew Fraser

Euan Burton
Burton's progress will be monitored closely by the BOA and UK Sport
Of all the 300 or so British athletes preparing for Beijing next year, there is one whose name is likely to keep popping up in Olympic circles over the next few months.

Euan Burton has just enjoyed the finest year of his career on the judo mat, winning bronze medals at both the world and European championships.

But it is the 28-year-old's link-up with the British Olympic Association's elite performance director Sir Clive Woodward that has thrust him into the spotlight.

Burton recently began working with a hand-picked team of experts on what Woodward hopes will become an established performance programme for Britain's Olympians in the build-up to London 2012.

The pilot project has added significance because, as BBC Sport reported in September, several sports have expressed doubts about Woodward's ability to make a difference in the Olympic arena.

Peter Scrivener - BBC Sport
Burton himself is taking it all in his stride.

"There is going to be a bit more pressure, but there's pressure in all aspects of sport," he told BBC Sport.

"This is something judo players have never really had access to before. We've taken our training as professionally as we can do, but the experts that I'm being linked with now are really at the very top of their fields.

"Hopefully it will pay off for Beijing, but the long-term plan is that it pays off for London too, because I'm looking to still be around then.

"Nobody makes massive strides when you get towards the top end of a sport. It's the tiny things that make the difference. I suppose I am a guinea pig but I don't think that's a bad thing."

Age: 28
Based: The Edinburgh Club. His GB team-mate and girlfriend Sally Conway also trains there
Weight category: -81kg
2005: European bronze medallist
2007: World and European bronze medallist. Moscow Super World Cup gold medallist
Burton is one of three British judoka to win places for Beijing so far. British Judo has set a target of two medals
The programme is designed to complement the existing regime that Burton follows with his coach Billy Cusack at the Edinburgh Judo Club.

Dave Alred, the man who helped Jonny Wilkinson become a master in the art of performing under pressure, has already passed on some advice.

And Tag Lamche, former drummer with Ian Dury and the Blockheads, has been working with Burton on hand-eye coordination, which has included teaching him how to juggle.

Woodward was recently labelled a "political hot potato" because his role with the BOA has been seen by some to be duplicating work already done by UK Sport, the government-backed body which contributes more than 100m of funding to elite sport each year.

But the British Judo Association's world class operations manager Karen Roberts believes Woodward's work with her sport will help defuse some of the scepticism.

"Clive has almost acted as a mentor for me, and he's been very supportive of judo," said Roberts, a former judoka who represented Britain at the Sydney Olympics in 2000.

"We can't say enough in support of what Clive is trying to achieve in British sport at the moment.

"I can't speak for other sports, but my general feeling is that every sport should be open-minded enough just to have a look and consider if it [the elite performance programme] is for them.

The elite performance programme is expected to cost about 20m
It will be funded by money the BOA raises from the private sector
Woodward spent nine months testing his programme on golfer Mel Reid, 20, a British amateur ladies champion
Advice will be offered to Burton in areas such as nutrition, injury prevention and performance analysis
"For every sport, it might not be right. Cycling [for example] has a very good system, maybe it's not right for them. But it was very right for judo, and I'm pleased we've been open-minded enough to do this.

"I think there are a lot of misconceptions about the driving force, that it's a personal objective [of Woodward's]. But in fact we've all got the objective of gold medals, not only in Beijing but especially in London 2012, where we do have the target of being fourth in the medal list.

"Because we've got that common goal, we may as well all work together."

Over the next few months, Burton's progress will be assessed by British Judo, the BOA and UK Sport to decide whether the programme should be widened out to more of the 35 Olympic sports.

But Burton insists he is focused solely on his Olympic dream, and not on any debates and discussions going on behind the scenes.

"I really don't care, as long as people are helping me and I'm getting the support I need," said Burton, who narrowly missed out on qualification for the Athens Olympics but has already qualified a place for GB in his weight category this time round.

"My job is on the judo mat, in the gym, making sure my training's done right. It's not to speak to politicians and keep everyone happy - it's to train as hard as I can and as clever as I can.

"I've wanted to be Olympic champion since I was six years old. To know that I'm going and I've got a chance of being Olympic champion is a massive thing for me."

Euan Burton is among the British athletes BBC Sport will be following during the countdown to Beijing 2008.

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