Sport Focus: Like Father, Like Son

January 22, 2020

Rising star Ross Connelly is determined to follow in his dad’s footsteps and make the step up onto the Wrestling podium at Birmingham 2022, but one thing is clear – he’s doing this his own way.

“There’s never been any pressure to live up to anything I’ve done,” says his dad David, Light Flyweight bronze medallist for Scotland at the Edinburgh 1986 Commonwealth Games. “Since he was a young boy he’s always been told to just do his own thing and achieve what he can achieve.”

So far that includes winning bronze at the 2017 Commonwealth Championships at the age of just 18 and one Commonwealth Games already under his belt at Gold Coast 2018. The drive towards Birmingham 2022 is already underway and in a step up from previous years, 2019 saw him lift a trio of titles; Scottish, English and British for the first time.

“It was unbelievable to be selected for Gold Coast, especially with it being my first Games,” says Ross. “That rush when you get selected and for it to be in a place like Australia as well, somewhere you wouldn’t get the chance to go very often, it was a special experience. I think it was special for my family as well, for my Dad with him having done Commonwealth Games himself.

“When I was growing up he was my biggest inspiration in wrestling because I just wanted to be like him. He never says anything about his medal, it’s more in my head that I want to compete with that and try to go one better.

“When I was about four or five years old I started tagging along with him to training. I would say I was going to wrestling but really I would just kind of follow him about the mat and jump around and stuff, it wasn’t really proper wrestling, but once I started doing that I just got the bug for it.”

With dad to look up to, Wrestling was perhaps always on the cards for Ross, but for David it was more an accident of geography and his heroes, while not family, were definitely home grown. Brought up in Cumbernauld he “fell” into the sport and it all went from there.

“It was a well-known club and a lot of the kids that I grew up with had either tried it or were still attending the club, so I just kind of fell into it that way. I was more into football at the time but I went along with them one night and that was it. One by one they left and moved on to other things but I enjoyed it so I stayed. I enjoyed that difference of it being an individual thing, just me against an opponent and it was up to me whether I won or lost.

“Bobby McLucas and Michael Cavanagh were there at the time and they had gone to earlier Commonwealth Games. I’d have been in my early to mid-teens and you were looking up to these guys. They were a few years older than me and were from the same club, so that was my inspiration.”

It wasn’t long before he was emulating his predecessors and making his own Commonwealth Games debut. He would compete at two Games, taking bronze at his first and 4th place at his second, and become one of only 18 Scots to have won a Commonwealth Games Wrestling medal to date.

“When I look back to Edinburgh 1986, it was a bit surreal, I was just 18 and had never been to a multi-sport event like that. It wasn’t overwhelming, but you had to pinch yourself that you were actually there. Competing and pulling on the tracksuit and singlet for Scotland was just a dream come true. I wish I could have done it more but unfortunately I was competing at that time where wrestling was dropping in and out of the Games, so I just got a couple in 1986 and 1994.

“In Edinburgh, being at home was obviously a bonus because friends and family could come and see you compete and it was fantastic, the whole atmosphere and everything. To stand on the podium was amazing, again surreal and I was maybe a bit too young to appreciate it as much as I should have at the time. It’s one of those things you wish you could just do over and over again.”

Incredibly that medal is something that his son has never seen. While experience and advice has been passed father to son, there’s certainly not been any sitting around reminiscing about past achievements in the Connelly household.

Searching his memory Ross says: “I remember one day we were clearing out the loft and there was some Commonwealth Games kit, I think it was from Victoria ‘94. I remember seeing his wrestling singlets, but I don’t think I ever remember seeing the medal or holding the medal or anything. I’m sure he’ll know where it is somewhere, he’s just such a modest man. It’s more been in training, he’s given me advice about working hard and, with tough matches, to fight right to the end of every match.”

As Birmingham 2022 approaches and being closer to home Games, Ross may be looking for dad to share just a bit more about his own competitive experience.

“Competing in Gold Coast has given me a real buzz for Birmingham. It’s a different buzz because it’s not your first Games but in a way it’s probably even stronger. Before Gold Coast the buzz was to get to your first Games, take in that experience and learn, especially because I was only 18 at the time. For Birmingham I want to get on the podium and really prove myself at the next Commonwealth Games. It’s a different buzz, but it’s just as strong.

“Birmingham will be special because it will be easier for family and friends to be able to come and support us. Everyone around the UK, not just in Birmingham, will be buzzing about the Games, just like Glasgow was, with everyone talking about the Games, going out on the street and showing their support. I think it’ll be great.

“I’ll have to get my Dad’s experience of his home Games out of him. He’s a quiet man and doesn’t mention it much but I’ll have to pressure him into it because, I know him, he’ll just keep saying ‘yeah, it was good’. I’ve got the bug for it now. Once you’ve done one you want to do another and hopefully this time I can get a better result and maybe get on the podium in Birmingham.”

As for dad he’s incredibly proud to have his son following in his footsteps and is looking forward to having the opportunity to be there to watch him compete.

“Gold Coast was just a bit far for us to get to because Ross’s selection wasn’t until quite late. The flights were really expensive by then and getting time off work was difficult. We’d have loved to go and see him but it just wasn’t practical at the time. I’m sure if he makes Birmingham we’ll be taking a trip down as a family to see him compete there and cheer him on.

“I think like every parent I’d like to see him get further than I did. That would be the ideal scenario. I’m incredibly proud and maybe I don’t tell him that enough.

“I don’t get too involved in his day to day training because he’s got programmes worked out by his national coach now, but I’ll be saying the same thing I said to him before Gold Coast – just go out there and lap up the experience. I think Ross has come back from there with a different mentality, just the same as I did coming back from my first Games in Edinburgh. You’ve done a Games and you know what to expect moving forwards so you just go and do your best. Hopefully all your hard work will pay off and things fall into place at the Games and you can maybe snatch a medal.”

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