READING synchro swimmer Katie Clark made her Olympic debut yesterday, just a couple of years after quitting the sport.
Unlike the huge National Lottery grants which have filtered their way to the gold medal-winning athletes, rowers, swimmers and gymnasts, the 22-year-old synchro star has had to get to Rio the hard way.
She, along with partner Olivia Federici from Plymouth, quit the sport three years ago.
But then in a change of heart, the dynamic duo decided to give the Olympic Games one last try.
By then, however, because they had stopped competing, Clark and Federici no longer had any funding, so initially trained in their spare time, going full-time this year.
Their decision was vindicated when British Swimming agreed to include them in Team GB, backing the pair as realistic medal prospects. They are Britain’s only synchro competitors in Brazil.
Yesterday, the British duo placed 18th in the duet free routine at the Maria Lenk Aquatics Centre. They scored 79.9667, 18.1000 behind leaders Natalia Ishchenko and Svetlana Romashina of Russia.
Showing good speed and height throughout, the Team GB synchro pair performed their snake-inspired routine under the Brazilian sun.
Today, they were due to take part in the preliminary round of the technical routine.
Clark, who swims for the Reading Royals, admitted afterwards that she was disappointed with the result. She said: “In June we scored 85 so it’s a little bit down from that but it’s a big competition so we can expect that. It’s really nice out there and it’s a nice atmosphere.
“We did our practice for the technical yesterday and we’re feeling good but we’re looking at every detail to make sure we’ve got the best score and the best performance possible.”
Team-mate Federici said they had pulled out all the stops to perform the best that they could. She said: “It felt really good.
“I guess I’m a little disappointed with our score but we gave it everything and you can’t do much more than what you can control. It’s one of our best swims so you can’t really ask for more than that.”
Even so, the British duo are delighted to be in Rio and have vowed to keep smiling in the pool till the end.
Federici added: “We have to make it look easy and effortless, even when your muscles are dying. It's all part of the artistic impression.
“The more you smile the more the judges will see it, no matter how far they are sat from you.
“For a runner or a swimmer, it doesn't matter what they look like, they're sprinting to that line and it doesn't matter if they've got spit dribbling down their face, but we have to keep our presentation.”
The Reading synchro star was seven when a swimming teacher noticed that Katie was double-jointed and suggested she took up synchro because of her excellent flexibility.
She did ballet as a child and her career has been on an upward spiral since winning the junior trials at the 2008 National Championships.
A year later, she represented Great Britain at the 2009 European Junior Championships finishing eighth in the combination event, 10th in the team and 11th in the duet.
Then in 2009, Clark made her senior international bow at the World Trophy in Montreal, Canada.
There was further success in 2010, when she helped GB to sixth in the team event at the European Championships and eighth at the FINA World Cup in Changshu, China.
And in 2011, she picked up a bronze medal at the European Champions’ Cup in Sheffield in the combination event. Shortly before taking a break from synchro, the Berkshire swimmer competed at her first World Championships in Shanghai in the team and combination events.