Af­ter a sil­ver sur­prise at worlds, it’s now on to Gold

Sunday Herald - - SPORT - BY GRAEME MACPHER­SON

THE fre­netic chaos of an Ital­ian mo­tor­way pro­vided the un­likely spot where Zoey Clark was fi­nally able to re­lax. These con­gested, toll­booth-laden “au­tostrade” are not for the faint-hearted – the 22-yearold was glad to be only a pas­sen­ger while her part­ner drove – but they helped join up a fort­night’s hol­i­day that took her from Mi­lan to Venice and down to Rome. Af­ter all her en­deav­ours over the past 12 months, both pro­fes­sional and per­son­ally, it served as a much-needed and well-de­served rest.

“I def­i­nitely felt like I needed a break; men­tally more than phys­i­cally,” said the Aber­do­nian 400 me­tre run­ner. “This year has been a bit of an emo­tional roller­coaster and I just needed to switch off. In the first week of my hol­i­day my mind was still rac­ing but to­wards the end I was def­i­nitely feel­ing quite chilled out.”

This has been a break­through year for Clark, but it has been achieved in tan­dem with the com­ple­tion of her hon­ours de­gree in chem­i­cal en­gi­neer­ing at Aberdeen Univer­sity. While that must have been a timedrain­ing pur­suit, it did not hin­der Clark on the ath­let­ics front. In­stead, she has thrived.

Win­ning the Bri­tish ti­tle at the tri­als in Birm­ing­ham in July gave her a place at her first world cham­pi­onships and she sur­passed even her own ex­pec­ta­tions in Lon­don. If there was per­sonal pride at reach­ing the semi-fi­nals of the in­di­vid­ual event and then post­ing a per­sonal best, the glory lay in be­ing part of the Great Bri­tain 4x400m team that clinched re­lay sil­ver.

That suc­cess thrust a hith­erto up-and-com­ing but largely un­known young Scots ath­lete into the wider spot­light.

“What we did in Lon­don def­i­nitely sur­passed what I had hoped for,” Clark ad­mit­ted. “Go­ing into it, you’re hop­ing for a medal as that’s the mind­set you have to have, but ac­tu­ally do­ing it was quite sur­real. There was def­i­nitely quite a lot of fo­cus on the re­lay teams as there hadn’t been that many in­di­vid­ual medals won and there was talk about hit­ting tar­gets. So there was quite a bit of pres­sure, al­though we tried to block as much of that out as pos­si­ble as you don’t want that in­ter­fer­ing with your prepa­ra­tion.

“But it was just great and I’ve had such a good re­sponse since then. It was all a bit crazy. I was in­un­dated with re­quests to go and speak at events or do in­ter­views so that’s been some­thing new to deal with.

“I was re­ally de­lighted with how my in­di­vid­ual event went, too. I had been hop­ing to reach the semi-fi­nals but I wasn’t sure if that would hap­pen as the com­pe­ti­tion was so strong. So do­ing that and then run­ning a per­sonal best time – you can’t com­plain about that. All of my runs, in­clud­ing my re­lays, were re­ally con­sis­tent, so I came away from the cham­pi­onships re­ally happy with how it went.

“To­wards the end, I started to feel more com­fort­able in that set­ting. I was glad I had run in the in­di­vid­ual 400m be­fore the re­lay as that had given me ex­po­sure to the track and the at­mos­phere.

“I def­i­nitely en­joyed it. I re­mem­ber be­ing at Glas­gow 2014 and let­ting the pres­sure get to me and it wasn’t as en­joy­able. But you learn from that and I def­i­nitely en­joyed this ex­pe­ri­ence a lot more.”

Hol­i­day over, Clark will soon be­gin the process of reach­ing her next Com­mon­wealth Games. The tim­ing of the event next April means rip­ping up the usual train­ing sched­ule and plan­ning some­thing dif­fer­ent, al­though her de­ci­sion to go full-time into ath­let­ics and leave job hunt­ing for a while means there will be fewer dis­trac­tions in the build-up.

“It’s more dif­fi­cult to pre­pare with the Games be­ing in April as usu­ally we wouldn’t have started by that point,” Clark said. “So we’re think­ing I’ll need to run a pretty full in­door sea­son and then have the Games com­ing off the back of that. We need to move ev­ery­thing for­ward in train­ing. So, for ex­am­ple, we’ll do speed work a lot ear­lier.

“I’m go­ing to com­mit full-time to ath­let­ics. My de­gree was pretty full on, so I just want to see what hap­pens if I can de­vote all my en­er­gies to run­ning now. The rest is some­thing I can come back to later on. It’s dif­fi­cult to pre­dict how I might do in Aus­tralia but I will def­i­nitely look to be com­pet­i­tive. I’ll put in a good win­ter’s train­ing and see where it takes me.”

Clark will plot that path in con­junc­tion with her coach Eddie McKenna, the pair hav­ing worked to­gether in Aberdeen since a chance meet­ing when she was just 15. “Eddie is great and I’m so lucky to have him as a coach,” Clark said. “It’s a bit of a fluke that we ended up to­gether. I came down to the track one day as I wanted to start ath­let­ics and was just wan­der­ing around aim­lessly un­til Eddie came over and asked if he could help.

“And that was the start. Stay­ing in Aberdeen and work­ing with the same coach has been hugely ben­e­fi­cial.”

That seems some­thing of an un­der­state­ment.

Go­ing into it, you’re hop­ing for a medal but ac­tu­ally do­ing it was quite sur­real

Zoey Clark with Eilidh Doyle, Emily Di­a­mond and Laviai Nielsen as they cel­e­brate win­ning sil­ver in the re­lay at the World Cham­pi­onships in Lon­don

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