Sally Conway felt a metaphorical weight lift from her shoulders as the heavy Olympic bronze medal was hung around her neck.
Memories can be very selective. When you think back to four years ago, it’s like everything Team GB touched in London turned to gold.
But for every life-changing tale, you meet five athletes or more who say the same thing – that while the rest of the country partied, they felt like grumpy intruders on the national celebration.
Conway, who trains at Ratho and won bronze for Scotland at the Commonwealth Games, lost in the quarter-finals of her -70kg class in London and admits it took 12 months for the disappointment to truly subside.
She met family and friends for weeks afterwards and just burst into uncontrollable tears, it was almost like the three stages of grief – denial, anger and ultimately acceptance that her chance might come again. And so it did. At best she was one of the team’s outside medal shots in Rio, though a victory at last year’s Grand Slam in Baku and bronze at the recent world tour in Paris underlined potential.
Conway is big believer in the power of positive thought. She talks a lot about visualising and belief – a word she’s even had inked on her right wrist as a permanent reminder not to dwell too much when things go wrong. And last night, at the noisy Carioca venue on Rio’s Olympic Park, Conway was rewarded as she claimed -70kg bronze, following in the footsteps of training partner Gemma Gibbons, a silver medallist in London.
“I told myself to believe in myself and that I deserve to be fighting against the best for an Olympic medal,” she said.
“Believe is a key word for me. You have to believe in yourself, which why I got the tattoo. When things are tough it’s good to have a little reminder when I look down.
“London was just a huge disappointment for me but this has made everything worth it, every moment. At the start of the day, I was really nervous but once I started winning then my confidence grew and grew and I just started to enjoy it. This is for everyone who has ever supported me and it’s their medal too.”
Conway started with a confident victory over Turkey’s Houda Miled to set up a second-round clash with France’s Gevrise Emane, the three-time world champion and bronze medallist at London 2012. However, Conway showed no fear winning by an second consecutive ippon, judo’s equivalent of a knockout blow.
Israel’s Linda Bolder was despatched in the same way but Colombia’s Yuri Alvear, the other bronze medallist, from London proved too much.
That gave Conway just ten minutes to gather her thoughts and take on Austria’s Bernadette Graf for bronze, which saw won by Yuko score after three tense minutes.
“I had to compose myself and not think about the opportunity gone and focus on the opportunity ahead,” she added. “One minute, I’d lost the chance to become an Olympic champion but the next I was fighting for a bronze medal. Thankfully, I didn’t have time to think about it too much. I told myself to just keep doing what I’d been doing all day and hopefully that would be enough. “I’ve claimed some big scalps here. I’d never beaten Gevrise, so that win gave me loads of confidence. I used to think that you needed medals to make it but it’s not medals than make you the person you are. I just wanted to perform to the best of my ability.”
Believe. It’s worth remembering.
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