London 2012 Olympics: Judo star Sarah Clark has down-to-earth view on upping her game

Great Britain's Sarah Clark warms down after training during a training session at the Judo Performance Institute, Dartford. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Thursday July 12, 2012. Photo credit should read: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire
Great Britain's Sarah Clark warms down after training during a training session at the Judo Performance Institute, Dartford. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Thursday July 12, 2012. Photo credit should read: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire
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It’s Lothian Road, central Edinburgh, on a midweek afternoon and the young woman distributing fliers near the Usher Hall could well be part of a Festival advance guard.

Except that the tracksuit suggests a sporting involvement and so it proves even if it is slightly out of date.

At that point Sarah Clark had yet to check-in to the Olympic village and collect kit emblazoned with the London 2012 logo partly because there was work to be done back home.

Games selection for a remarkable third time represented a golden chance – maybe literally? – to promote a sport she began to embrace long before claiming a black belt aged 15 and going on to become a 
European champion.

So, passers-by are invited to read all about the Edinburgh Club where Sarah trains while other judokas put on a demonstration across the busy thoroughfare in Festival Square.

With the Games looming the true Olympic spirit surely doesn’t come in more tangible form than especially with Sarah remarking: “Every day I learn something different about judo and I’m always trying to show judo off to other people.

“It’s been my whole life. I like the lifestyle and it is so good for creating role models.

“I’m seeing not just the competition side although this is an exciting time in my competitive career – I’m also seeing what I can give to other people.”

How many of the passers-by will tune in on Monday and recognise the girl with the fliers competing on the mat at -57kg and dare to dream that she might make a journey from that Edinburgh pavement to a London medal podium?

Sarah, who, aged 16, left her native South Shields back in 1995 to train in Edinburgh believes London represents her best opportunity. Being a home Games and not travelling, not having to acclimatise is a 
significant boost. I know what to expect from the village 
environment, what questions to expect from the media, that sort of thing.

“More than anything I know what I have to do. It is like any other competition – I’m not meeting anyone I don’t know.

“So, I’d like to say it is my best chance. I am in a slightly lower (weight) category so I am probably a slightly stronger competitor.

“I’m in a category lower than Beijing having decided for various reasons I was quite light at the other category whereas everybody else was trying to diet down.

“So, we made the conscious decision to move down and did it for a full year. It was successful.

“Last year I was sitting at No.1 at 63kg going towards the Olympics but it was a hard decision to forfeit the 63kg and have to fight my way into the 57kg.

“However, I thought I had a better chance at 57kg and have fought my way in with someone else has moving to 63kg.

“I’ve competed against 95 per cent of the field and haven’t won them all but I have beaten quite a lot of the girls who are top eight in the world.

“I don’t think it is more pressure than anywhere else. In fact, it will be an advantage going into a stadum of 10,000 with nine and a half thousand on your side.

“It works for the French when you go to their Bercy stadium. The most pressure I come across is my own ‘cos I’m horrible to myself, saying ‘you must do this’ and ‘you must do better’ and ‘you must put this in place’.

“I get hugely nervous. If I didn’t I wouldn’t be a human being. But nerves come in all forms and I’ve learned how to use them to drive me to go 

“As a superstition I used to wear same T-shirts or do the same routines. Now I have my set routine and stick to it.”

And by way of a vote of confidence in her technique, Sarah insists: “It’s about getting to the weight and making sure I am fuelled enough.”

Although the ‘Geordie accent is still pronounced, Sarah regards herself as having the best of two worlds and has set sights on representing Scotland at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games.

“I’d love to see myself at Glasgow 2014 because. I’ve competed for Scotland for a long time and it is going to be as big for Scotland as the London Olympics.”

First, though, comes London and Sarah combines the two, saying: “It would be a huge boost if we got a Scottish gold. Doors would open for judo in general with the chance to create more role models and show what our sport can offer. It would be such a good thing.”

With feet so firmly planted on the ground – or mat? – it is easy to forget that over the next fortnight she will be rubbing shoulders with the great and good of the sporting world.

Fortunately that is not lost on her.

“My best Olympic memory? That has to be walking into the opening ceremony in Athens and the closing ceremony in Beijing.

“And Euan Burton (another GB judo hope from Midlothian) and I got to see Usain Bolt win the 200 metres in Beijing. That was phenomendal.

“Seeing that many sports in one place coming together, people literally all shapes and sizes from all over the world, is just amazing.

“Anybody can do sport. it just takes that little bit extra to get to that different level. That is what the Olympics are about.”

With a “little bit extra” maybe, just maybe, the face in the 
Lothian Road crowd will soon be a golden girl and a household name.