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Athletics: Zoey Clark’s Tokyo Olympics dream alive despite ‘dead’ year

Zoey Clark.
Zoey Clark.

Aberdeen’s Great Britain 4x400m relay runner Zoey Clark picked up a world championship silver medal in 2017, European championship and world indoor championship bronzes in 2018 and a European indoor championship silver in 2019.

But 2020 has been different. It was, potentially, to have been the biggest year of her career with an expected place in the Tokyo Olympic Games and the possibility of another podium appearance.

Instead there has been nothing. No championships. No medals. Not so much as a single race. The coronavirus pandemic and its ensuing devastating impact across the world, brought sport to a shuddering halt, including the postponement of the Olympics until next summer.

Clark hasn’t competed since stepping off the track in Doha on October 6 2019 when she helped Great Britain take fourth place in the women’s 4x400m in the world championships.

Zoey Clark. Picture by Kath Flannery

But, despite the subsequent lack of racing opportunities, the unexpected turn of events since then has, she believes, had some positive outcomes.

Clark said: “It’s bizzare to have gone a full year without a single race. That has been so strange. But there are some benefits I’ve been able to take from it.

“It has given me more time to recover from the injuries I had, so, hopefully, I’ll be in better shape to prepare for the Olympics this coming year.

“And there was another more practical benefit. During the first lockdown I had to set up a gym in my garage which I am still using. It saves me a lot of time as it means I don’t always have to travel to facilities and generally I feel I have a better routine now.”

Clark is determined to succeed in 2021 when, hopefully, life will begin to return something approaching normality.

She has been a mainstay of the GB senior women’s relay squad for the past three years, but is equally ambitious to make her mark in the individual 400m at the Olympics.

The qualifying standard is 51.35sec, while Clark’s current best is 51.36 set at the London Diamond League meeting in 2018.

She said: “The relay is obviously important to me, but I always want to aim for that individual spot on the team as well.

“The qualifying time is just a fraction faster than I’ve run, so hopefully it’s achievable. I’d also probably have to finish in the top two in the trials.”

In the meantime, Clark hopes to get some indoor competition under her belt in the new year, if restrictions allow, with an appearance in the British championships in Glasgow and the European championships in Torun, Poland in March among the possibilities.

She said: “The indoor season is not a priority as the Olympics is obviously the main thing for me, but if I am running well enough and the chance comes along to go to Poland I’ll probably take it.”

Sprinter Clark now balancing full-time job with training

Aberdeen AAC’s Zoey Clark believes her move from full-time athlete to full-time engineer will enhance her international sprinting career.

Many athletes believe they can’t reach the top unless they devote full attention to their sport.

But Clark is convinced that needn’t be the case. The 26-year-old graduated from Aberdeen University with a first-class degree in chemical engineering just over three years ago and since then she has concentrated fully on athletics.

During that spell she has picked up a clutch of medals at world and European level with the Great Britain 4x400m relay squad and has her sights set on the 2021 Tokyo Olympic Games.

She said: “I started work in September as a graduate process engineer and it’s a full-time post. It was always my plan to do this as I didn’t want to be away from it for too long as that wouldn’t be good. It has nothing to do with finance, it’s just something I feel is best.

“It fits in quite well with my training. In many ways it’s just like when I was at university, because I would always train in the evening.

“Before I took this job I had all day to fill. I like to be busy and I think sometimes I had too much time on my hands. That wasn’t always conducive to doing a good training session.

“So now I’ll do my 8-4 working day then go to training. I feel more energised doing that and I enjoy training with the rest of the group.”

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