Stockport judoka Eric Ham admits this year is his most important yet as he aims to make the transition to senior level competition.
Since first starting the sport aged four, Ham has gradually been making his way through the ranks, dominating on first the British cadet circuit before moving up the juniors.
Last year saw him crowned British under-21 champion while just last month he took junior gold at the English Open in Sheffield.
The new European Cup season has already started in promising fashion with junior bronze in Italy but 17-year-old Ham knows he needs to keep standards high.
Next year sees him move up to senior level on a permanent basis, but with the opportunity to compete at the top level this year too, Ham admits he must gain confidence while he can.
“I’m number one in Britain at the moment and have been for the last year or so,” the Aquinas College pupil said.
“I went up to number one in March last year and then I’ve kept that and got a big lead there.
“Because I’m number one everyone expects me to perform but I am beatable so everyone can beat me so I’ve got the pressure to stay number one without losing to them.
“I’m aiming for a more successful senior level. It’s a big step, we have a transition period where they’ll still select us but it’s hard.
“My goal is while I’m in my last year at juniors is to be successful at seniors or else I’ll struggle to make it if I’m not already winning medals.
“Technically I think I’m nearly there. But I need to get bigger and stronger because they have the adult strength whereas I’m quite small compared to the men. That’s why I’m struggling at the moment because I’m small compared to them.”
Ham is one of 100 athletes selected for the 2015 SSE Next Generation programme, a scheme that identifies potential Commonwealth Games and Olympic medallists of the future, providing them with financial help and mentoring from elite athletes like Olympic medal-winning diver Leon Taylor.
And the teenager believes being an SSE Next Generation athlete will help spur him on to bigger and better things.
“The advice that the mentors give you is really useful and it helps to be able to talk to other athletes who are in your situation, trying to make a name for themselves,” Ham added.
“Rio’s too close for me but they’re funding me for the Tokyo Olympics.
“When I start qualifying for Tokyo I’ll be 21, some say that’s still too young but I’ll be 23 at the Olympics so that’s a good age.”
SSE’s Next Generation programme partners with SportsAid to provide financial support and training to the sports stars of the future. Keep up to date with the latest @SSENextGen