Sprinter Zoey Clark remains determined to run for Great Britain at the Paris 2024 Olympics – despite a year of injury hell which has seen the Aberdeen athlete lose her UK Athletics lottery funding.
Clark, a 400m specialist, has won 4x400m relay medals at indoor and outdoor World Championships, indoor and outdoor European Championships, the Commonwealth Games, and made her Olympic Games debut at the delayed Tokyo 2021.
However, Clark’s 2023 season has been wrecked after suffering a prolapsed disc in her back.
She missed the World Championships in Budapest in August, and this week it was revealed she is not included in UK Athletics’ 67-athlete-strong world class list leading into the Paris Games in July and August next year.
Despite the funding blow, Clark, who turned 29 on Wednesday, is still intent on earning a place on Team GB for the Olympics.
She said: “Obviously I’ve had some setbacks and the road there is not going to be as smooth as I would have hoped.
“It may be achievable, it may not be achievable, but it’s definitely in my mind I have to get myself in one piece and in the best position to try to qualify.”
‘It’s disappointing to be let go when you could argue I need help the most’
On losing her UK Athletics funding, Clark said: “I think it was expected just because, although I only got injured this year, I had been out of play all season and there have been a lot of strong women coming through in the 400.
“I knew that it was going to be competitive for spots, so I think I kind of prepared myself mentally in advance that they probably would remove me from the support system.
“But it is quite disappointing, because I’ve been involved with the relay squad for many years now – as this really is my first injury.
“It’s disappointing to be let go when you could argue I need help the most.”
Aberdeen Amateur Athletics Club member Clark, who is based at Aberdeen Sports Village, works as a process engineer in the oil industry by day.
She admits the impact of losing her funding – which she has had since 2017 – has been softened by having another source of income.
Having her other work during her injury struggles has also been helpful from a psychological perspective for Clark during her disrupted 2023, and she said: “Irregardless of the support system (losing the Lottery funding), throughout the injury, it’s been helpful to have the other focus, because if I wasn’t working and I was a full-time athlete and was injured, it would be a lot more difficult mentally to process.”
‘Back is doing really well’ and Clark hopes for summer track return at latest
Clark revealed, although she is impatient to return to racing, her recovery from her back issue is moving in the right direction.
However, Clark insists her main motivation for the months ahead will simply be “getting healthy” to make her track comeback is, rather than proving UK Athletics wrong.
She said: “Obviously I would like to come back stronger and show that they were wrong to drop me. But that’s not really my main focus – my main focus is just getting healthy by myself.
“It’s slower than I would like, but not slower than expected I don’t think. I think the physios are quite happy with the progress I’m making.
“I’m just not the most patient and would like this to be a lot quicker.
“The back is doing really well and I’m not having any flare-ups with it. It’s healed really nicely.
“All I’m having to manage right now is the nerve damage associated with the initial prolapse of the disc, regaining motor function down my leg. It is coming back, everything’s getting stronger. Everything’s responding a lot better – it’s not just not back to pre-injury levels yet.
“I really hope I’ll be able to race in summer time. I don’t really see there being a reason why I shouldn’t be able to race in summer.
“Athletics has the indoor season which goes from January through to March, and the world indoors are in Glasgow this year.
“It would be absolutely lovely to be back for indoors.
“However, I’m not going to put any pressure on that, as it is a slow recovery process and I’m just not going to rush anything.”