James Willstrop is one of England’s most decorated Squash players and in 2012 was ranked number one in the world. He returned form a career-threatening hip injury to win silver and bronze at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and has previously competed at the Commonwealth Youth Games.
We spoke to James, now 31, as he looks back on his career, Glasgow 2014 and discusses the importance of the Commonwealth Youth Games as a part of his development.
Team England: You won Gold at the 2000 Commonwealth Youth Games in Edinburgh – how important was the Youth Games to your development?
James Willstrop: The Commonwealth Youth Games was a big occasion and was a special summer for us coming off the back of winning the World Junior Championships as well as the Commonwealth Youth Games. It had this sort of aura about it, being a Commonwealth event and it was run very well and had this real sense of occasion for us.
I have fond memories of being there, being part of it, winning a medal and being a Commonwealth champion. I will always remember it, I am sure it was a big boost for my career and it’s one of those events that gives you great experience to prepare you for the future.
TE: This year, England’s young athletes are travelling to Samoa for the 2015 Youth Games – what advice can you give them?
JW: Try not to get too hung up about everything, try to lap-up the occasion and enjoy it. If I was to go back and do it all again, I would just try to keep positive about it, not let the pressure get to me and realise that it’s not the end of the world if you lose. It’s about soaking it all in and experience playing at that level of world sport. I also suggest that they bear in mind the jetlag issue, read up about it and prepare themselves otherwise it will be a shock.
TE: Winning silver at Glasgow last year must have been a fantastic experience?
JW: It’s one of the best experiences of my life. Due to injury, I thought that six weeks before the Games I wouldn’t play the sport again, so to be able to play and win medals was amazing.
People asked me if I was disappointed not to win gold, but I really wasn’t – I was just happy to be there, competing and being a part of it all. Having just had a hip operation I thought that I might never play again so it was just wonderful to have been there. It was so fantastic in the village and the atmosphere was amazing.
TE: In 2018, the Commonwealth Games is headed to Australia’s Gold Coast – is that a goal for you and would you love to go for Gold there?
JW: With the hip operation, I’ve had a light year and it’s probably given me some extra playing time. I’m old for a squash player, I don’t want to take anything for granted and I know it’s taking its toll on me. So I don’t know what the future holds for me, but for now I’m trying to keep healthy.
Of course the 2018 Games are in my sights. It’s hard to predict what will happen in three years but it would be a dream to compete at those Games and go for gold.