By Colin Bateman, republished from Express.co.uk
At 29, the Yorkshireman is at the peak of his powers and has been a key figure in squash’s bid for Olympic recognition in a series of presentations to the IOC aimed at securing inclusion in the 2020 Games.
Squash missed out on inclusion at 2012 by a whisker and then made a hash of its bid for Rio de Janeiro in 2016 while golf and rugby sevens were given the nod.
Now 2020 is the vision as it competes alongside such notable sports as wushu (a martial art), wakeboarding (a type of waterskiing), climbing, karate, rollersports and baseball for a place at the Games in seven years’ time. The IOC announce their decision in September.
“My dream of competing in the Olympics may never be realised,” says Willstrop. “I think 2020 is too far away for me. I’ll be about 37 then and I can’t see me still being at the top of what is such a tough sport.
“I went to the Olympics last summer and it was fabulous. It’s disappointing not to have made it but I have had such a wonderful career in squash I’d be thrilled to see it there.
“We can’t really get any answers as to why we have missed out but we keep trying. Most people are flabbergasted squash is not in the Olympics when every other major racket sport is there.
“It’s gladiatorial and has all the elements of an Olympic sport, it’s played in so many countries and is easily accessible. It is difficult to take when you miss out to rugby and golf. Golf is a prime example of a sport that surprisingly got in ahead of us – but it is all about what sponsors and TV want, I guess.
“You can’t blame the Olympic people if they want the likes of Tiger Woods and the big-money sports, that’s the way of the world, but it is disappointing for us because we feel squash is made for the Olympics.”
Squash missed its chance for 2012 by a handful of votes seven years earlier, a decision which almost certainly cost Team GB yet more valuable metal.
Last year Willstrop and compatriot Nick Matthew were No 1 and No 2 in the world while in the women’s rankings, Laura Massaro and Jenny Duncalf were in the top three.
“I believe we probably have our strongest squash team ever and Britain would have been incredibly strong at London,” says Willstrop. “If you went by the rankings we would have won a collection of medals.
“When we failed to get the vote in 2005 I remember it as clear as day. I was in the gym training, I was about 21, in the world’s top 10 and would have been at my peak for 2012.
“When we missed out it was horrible. We got the most votes of the five sports that put in but didn’t quite have a two-thirds majority needed.
“It was a triple whammy of disappointment not to make it, but squash in this country is in good shape, we fund it well and have great systems to bring players through. There are some cracking juniors coming on and we should be very strong in 2020.”
Egypt’s Ramy Ashour takes over as world No 1 when the rankings are revised today but he has withdrawn from Queen’s with an injury, leaving Willstrop as the top seed among the eight men that include Matthew and Britain’s Peter Barker.
Massaro and Duncalf compete in the women’s event that also brings the top eight players to London this week for the sport to showcase itself once again with live TV coverage on Sky.
Willstrop said: “The World Series Finals is the equivalent of tennis’s ATP Tour finals with the leading eight points earners from the year. Every top player wants to win this one.”