Edinburgh judoka Sarah Clark counts cost of 18 years at top

Sarah Clark won gold at Glasgow 2014 in her final judo competition
Sarah Clark won gold at Glasgow 2014 in her final judo competition
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Sarah Clark is set to go under the knife on Thursday to repair ankle problems ahead of shoulder surgery next month as the price of a glittering judo career, culminating in Commonwealth Games gold, becomes clear.

But the 36-year-old three time Olympian and ex-European champion would not have it any other way as she reflects on more than a decade at the top while plotting a sporting future beyond the competition mat.

“I suppose the operations are a price that has had to be paid but I have met so many good friends through judo and seen some wonderful places,” said the Edinburgh-based athlete, who is originally from South Shields.

“For most of my life, I had a tendency to go over on my ankles quite easily and competed with them taped up. Post-London Olympics I had to have a clear-out operation to repair cartilage damage and the pain has been pretty constant, so it will be good to get rid of that.

“During the op they are going to break my heel and, if it isn’t done now, there will be a tendency to suffer from arthritis later in life.

“Similarly, the shoulder, which was operated on three or four years ago, was causing me niggles; adrenalin helped get me through the Games.”

Time in hospital will give Sarah a break from what she calls a post-Glasgow “whirlwind”, where she took part in a programme highlighting the benefits of judo to youngsters while she also attended golf’s Ryder Cup at Gelneagles with other members of Team Scotland.

“I wasn’t particularly into golf but, after visiting Gleneagles, found myself locked into the final day singles,” she said. “At one point, we were invited up on stage at the Opening Ceremony and there was just a sea of people.”

Sarah is used to having mind-blowing experiences through her sport. “Before the Beijing Olympics, I went out with Team GB members and, as I stood on the Great Wall of China, marvelled at the sheer scale of things. That, along with contesting a final in Paris against a local girl in front of 15,000 spectators mostly yelling for her, are two of my main memories. Mind you, sitting in Rangers’ manager Ally McCoist’s box at Ibrox watching a day of rugby sevens at the Commonwealth Games was pretty special too.”

In the short term, Sarah will focus on more mundane matters. “It’s strange but, when you are an athlete travelling for the past 18 years, home tends to be a place where you lay your head for a few days at a time before heading out the door again.

“A priority now is to give my house a more homely feel – there’s a lot of decorating to be done – while all the time planning ways ahead for judo.

“I’ve been thrilled to go round schools talking about my experiences and telling of the ups and downs you get in sport.

“Always the theme is to encourage everyone to be a better person at the end of the day than the one that gets up in the morning. Sport can do a lot in that regard.

“Another message I try to get across is ‘doing something well becomes a habit’.”

Other plans on the horizon include expanding Edinburgh Judo Club which is based in St Margaret’s House at Meadowbank. “Currently, we have approximately 150 members and I’d love to help get membership up to 1000,” added Clark.

“Above all, you see, it is not just about me the athlete. It is more about the kids so that they are taught the right skills at the youngest possible age.”