HE may have been overlooked in the selection process for the upcoming Commonwealth Games, but coach Mike Liptrot insists the sport has not seen the last of Kendal judoka Michael Horley.
After a memorable year which saw the 26-year-old claim four European Cup medals and win the German Open, Horley will miss out on the showpiece event in Glasgow.
Furthermore, he occupied top spot in the 90kg category for the best part of 12 months only to be edged out by a late surge by Gary Hall.
A back injury sustained while competing in South America also played its part in recent months, with Horley ultimately unable to accumulate enough points to secure his place in the England squad.
A bitter pill to swallow for a fighter who also missed out on the 2012 Olympic Games in London, although Liptrot believes bigger battles lie ahead for the Carlisle-born fighter.
“I wouldn’t say Michael was devastated but he was very disappointed because he was in the number one qualifying spot for nearly a year,” he said.
“He had fifth place finishes in World Cup events and if he’d medalled at any of those and secured one more win – he actually lost in a bronze medal match – he would have qualified.
“He expected to be number one for England but Gary Hall produced two results which made it difficult for Michael to qualify and that’s how the world works sometimes.
“To put it into context, Olympic silver medallist Gemma Gibbons only qualified in second place in her weight category.
“There are lots of athletes not going to the Commonwealth Games that would be in our Olympic team if we selected it now.
“The Commonwealth Games in judo terms is not that big and would not qualify him for any further funding, we look at the European Championships as being far tougher.
“There’s no doubt it’s disappointing but it’s onwards and upwards. The Olympic cycle is very important for the sport of judo and for Michael.”
Once fully recovered from his back injury, Horley’s attentions will turn to the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, with the qualification process starting in September.
And while being no stroll in the park – competitors will need to be ranked in the top 16 in Europe – Horley has the full backing of his coach.
“Rio is very much his aim,” added Liptrot. “Psychologically it is difficult when you don’t obtain the goals you believe you should do along the way but Rio is now very much his aim.
“We have to give people realistic goals and I’m a straight talking kind of guy. For Michael, I wouldn’t give him an unrealistic goal as that just ends up in tears.
“We would be absolutely overjoyed with Michael’s performances in the last year if taken in isolation but because he has not qualified for the Games there is that level of disappointment.
“We need to have a strategy for him to qualify for the Olympics and that’s what we’re trying to do. We believe we’re moving in the right direction.”
Another Kendal Judo Club player missing out on competing at the Commonwealth Games is Sophie Cox, who represented Great Britain at London 2012 in the 52kg category.
The 32-year-old – who is part of Sky Sports Living for Sport – Youth Sport Trust – also appeared at the 2004 Olympics in Athens, and Liptrot believes Cox can look back on a distinguished career with considerable pride.
“Sophie is a totally different animal to Michael, she is very much at the end of her career and the Commonwealth Games was a potential swansong for her,” said Liptrot.
“She tried to qualify for the Commonwealths and if she had come away with a gold medal while competing in Oceania rather than silver she would have.
“But for her, she is very much a coach now. She wanted to achieve qualification but it’s not the end of the world.
“She was a Commonwealth bronze medallist in Manchester and is a multi-European and world medallist after enjoying a very strong career.”