FOR most athletes, getting their hands on an Olympic medal is the culmination of a career’s hard work.  

For Sally Conway however, her Olympic bronze medal at the Rio 2016 Games was just a sign of what was still to come. 

Prior to the Rio Olympics, the Edinburgh judoka had been a consistent presence towards the top of her sport, but she had never quite managed to edge her way onto the podium at a major global championship. 

Winning Olympic bronze in Rio then, at the age of 29, was her first major championship silverware and so rather than see it as her peak as an athlete, she viewed it as the beginning of a new and more successful chapter of her career. 

“I know some athletes think about retiring after winning an Olympic medal but I never considered that after Rio,” she says.  

“I felt like I had so much more to give and had so much more room for improvement and I feel like my results over the past couple of years have shown that to be right.” 

Conway has certainly proven that her Olympic medal was no one-off. Silver at the European Championships in 2018 was followed up by bronze at the 2019 World Championships, with her 2014 Commonwealth bronze ensuring she became one of a select group of Scottish athletes in any sport to have completed the full set of major championships medals. 

It is quite a feat, but her medal haul in recent years has not dampened her drive as she gears up for her third Olympic appearance in Tokyo this summer with the Scot currently in pole position to grab GB’s one place in the -70kgs category. 

In fact, Conway is quick to point out that as she heads into Olympic year once more, already having experienced Olympic success means absolutely nothing. 

“Rio seems like ages ago to me now – I can still remember it so clearly but it seems like it happened a long time ago,” the world number 7 says.  

“There’s young fighters coming through who have so much energy and motivation so that helps drive you on – you know there’s always people wanting to beat you. 

“Rio was Rio but you could fight the same competition the very next day and have totally different results. So of course it’s brilliant to win an Olympic medal because it means you were able to do what you needed to do on the day it mattered but it doesn’t mean anything at the next competition or the next Olympics because it’s a new day, a new event.” 

While Conway does not go as far as to say she was pleased about the postponement of the Tokyo Games, the 12 month delay certainly afforded her a little more time to recover from the minor knee surgery to repair a damaged meniscus she underwent a few weeks prior to the pandemic hitting the UK. 

Months off the mat during lockdown were, of course, far from ideal but with the help of a borrowed rowing machine, Conway is confident of the shape she is in six months out from the Tokyo Games. 

What, though, is even more encouraging than her physical shape is her mental fitness which, as she has matured as an athlete, has been one of the biggest contributing factors to her success and what gives her confidence she has what it takes to perform to her best come this summer’s Olympics. 

“These days, I still get really nervous but I feel like I can handle the pressure a lot better now,” she says.  

“I still have worries and doubts in my head like I did when I was a younger athlete but now I can deal with those feelings so much better and I know what to do to make sure I’m in the best place possible when I step out on the mat. 

“I developed that confidence that every competition I go to, I can win it. I know I can lose it too but I know I’m good enough to win if everything goes my way so it’s really exciting to be in that position.” 

Conway, along with the rest of the judo world, remains somewhat in limbo regarding plans over the next few months. Having opted to sit out of the Doha Masters earlier this month, Conway remains uncertain as to when her first competitive appearance of the year will be. 

Such uncertainty is unusual for an Olympic year but Conway has the experience, and the level-headedness, to know that there is no point worrying about things she can’t control. And so whatever happens between now and Tokyo, Conway will take it in her stride. 

“I don’t know what’s next,” she says. 

“It’s strange feeling like that but it’s the same for everyone. We just need to wait and see which is very different from usual – normally you know exactly what you’ll be doing leading up to the Olympics but you just need to deal with that.  

“It’s the same for everyone so we’ll just need to take things as they come in the next few months and handle whatever is thrown at us ahead of Tokyo.”