Norfolk-born James Willstrop wins gold at Commonwealth Games

PUBLISHED: 11:40 09 April 2018 | UPDATED: 15:16 09 April 2018

Commonwealth Games delight for North Walsham-born James Willstrop. Picture: PA

Commonwealth Games delight for North Walsham-born James Willstrop. Picture: PA

PA Archive/PA Images

The Gold Coast is famed for its rollercoasters - the perfect metaphor for the career of Norfolk-born squash star James Willstrop.

There have been dizzying highs, but plenty of plunging lows too for the 34-year-old from North walsham – including defeats to arch-rival Nick Matthew in the last two Commonwealth Games singles finals.

But Willstrop – who had lost in his previous six major finals – produced arguably the best 50 minutes of his squash career to finally claim gold.

New Zealand’s Paul Coll is one of squash’s rising stars, earning the nickname Superman for his trademark flying dives around the court. If Matthew proved Willstrop’s kryptonite during a long-standing and often bitter rivalry, this time there was no stopping the 34-year old.

Matthew was even among the first to congratulate him after he’d collapsed to his knees in exhaustion and relief.

“That’s got to be best title of my life, I’m not sure anything could live up to this. It’s just the most wonderful moment of my career,” said Willstrop, after winning 11-9, 11-4, 11-6

“I’ve heard it said that I’ve not quite achieved the things that I should have done, but now I’m here with a gold medal, it’s very hard to process. It just clicked, it’s the stuff you dream of. Perhaps all the hours I’ve put in training finally paid off with the perfect match.

“I hadn’t given up the idea of winning a big one, but I had no expectation of it. I was seeded three, so I knew it could happen. “Everything in the lead-up went well, I had a great win against last year’s world champion and that was a great boost.”

They say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger and Willstrop’s experience certainly proved decisive in the one-sided final.

Coll admitted afterwards that it was like playing an ‘unstoppable force’.

“I think that all those defeats helped in a way,” added Willstrop. “I’ve been in those positions, where you’re feeling like death on the day of the final – he hadn’t. I’ve played so many more finals than he has. He’s still quite young on the scene but I think I’ve proved that there is always time and hopefully his time will come too.

“I’d love to be around in four years to defend it, it would be a lovely thing but playing this game at 38 would be very hard.”

Willstrop will now focus his attention on learning his lines for a role in Death and the Maiden, a play by the Harrogate Dramatic Society this summer.

Ariel Dorfman’s gripping tale sees the main character forced to decide how far they would be willing to go to settle an old score.

Willstrop knows how that feels – and it feels great.

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