WHEN Zoey Clark was doing yet another circuit in her back garden during lockdown, often in the rain, she couldn’t help but feel a pang of disappointment that she should have been in Florida at that very moment.

The GB internationalist was due to set-off for a training camp in America just as the pandemic hit the UK and so with all her plans suddenly out the window, she had to make do with a back garden in Aberdeen rather than a warm track in the Sunshine State across the Atlantic.

For most in those circumstances, it would have been almost impossible to maintain any semblance of motivation but for Clark, she saw it as a challenge she was not going to let it disrupt her too much.

“The fact I was supposed to be in Florida definitely made it all worse. I kept getting alerts on my phone saying it was time for me to check-in for my flight and I was like no it’s not!,” the 400m specialist said.

“I liked the problem-solving aspect of it though. We obviously couldn’t use any facilities so I had to work out what I could do and make sure I was making the most of what I had available to me. I was missing the track a lot and I was missing my training group so much but I just tried to make it a fun thing to see how I could best maintain my training.”

Clark was on course to make her debut Olympic appearance at Tokyo this summer before the Games fell foul of the pandemic. It was, she admits, hugely disappointing coming to terms with the fact she would have to wait another twelve months to become an Olympian but once the dust settled, she realised that some extra preparation time would work in her favour.

“I had really mixed feelings about Tokyo being postponed - obviously the Olympics are the pinnacle of the sport and we’d been planning for it for four years so to have that taken away was extremely disappointing and it took a while to come to grips with it,” the 26-year-old world and European relay medallist said.

“But overall, I’m happy to have another year of preparation. At the start of this year I had a little injury, it wasn’t anything bad but I was trying to manage my training around it so to know I didn’t have to push to get back was good.”

There may not have been many race meets over the summer but Clark’s event has been in the headlines in recent weeks following the decision of World Athletics and the Athlete Integrity Unit not to suspend world 400m champion Salwa Eid Naser despite the Bahraini having missed four anti-doping tests since the start of 2019. The rules are clear; three missed tests will result in a ban but Naser has escaped punishment on a technicality meaning she will be free to compete at Tokyo 2021.

Most athletes have reacted strongly to the decision but for Clark, the disappointment is even more tangible given it is her event in which Naser competes.

“It’s difficult as an athlete because a lot of the faith in the sport has been lost. There’s a lot going on and it can feel like ‘oh, there’s another dirty athlete’. It’s really frustrating because I really think it hurts the sport. I feel like it’s one rule for one and another rule for others. Just because you’re world champion, it shouldn’t mean the rules don’t apply to you,” she said.

“I’ve never missed a test. As an athlete, we don’t have many responsibilities but this is one of them and we must have it to protect the sport. It’s really not that difficult to do it properly – you can change your details in 30 seconds, you can do it on your phone and you can do it until one minute before your one-hour testing window.

“It’s not hard so I don’t think there’s much of an excuse to miss one test let alone more than that.”

With Clark being based in Aberdeen, she was hit by even stricter lockdown restrictions than athletes in the rest of the country and while she could have made a case for leaving the region to travel elsewhere to race, she decided it sent the wrong message when the rest of the area was making such great sacrifices. The result being that Clark is one of the few Scottish athletes who have not had a single race this year, which has left her champing at the bit to get back into competitive action in the new year. Whether that will be indoors or outdoors remains to be seen but Clark knows that with this enforced break reigniting her love for the sport, she will be more motivated than ever when she does pull her spikes on in anger once again.

“The main focus for me will be on outdoors however, if the opportunity to do one or two indoor races comes up, I’ll probably jump on it just because it’s such a long time since I raced and it’ll be good to get that race feeling again,” she said.

“Everything that’s happened this year has really helped put everything into perspective.

“Last year, I sometimes got into a habit of turning up at training because you have to and you can go through the motions but this summer has reminded me how much I love this sport and it’s so awesome that I’m an athlete. It’s definitely made me appreciate it more whereas I maybe took it all for granted a little bit before this year.”