The mats in the centre of the hall are the killing fields for the hopes of a generation of elite athletes. On this bright Monday morning, they are led, two by two, male and female, towards the moment they have been preparing for, perhaps even fearing, for four years.
It is over quickly, but not mercifully, for some. There is a bang of impact, sometimes a discernible groan and then a roar of triumph or a gasp of disappointment from supporters.
One woman or man leaves the mat victorious, the other just leaves. Defeated. An Olympics over in minutes. Four years of dieting, training, honing technique, hoping for peak form, worrying about that twinge, recovering from that strain, lifting the weights, stretching the mind and the body - and then, in a moment, it is over, the athlete lies prone, stares at the roof of a conference centre and dares not contemplate the immediate future.
This is judo and it is brutal. It makes obvious physical demands but it extracts a price far beyond bruises and aches from the defeated.
The Olympic experience lasted five minutes and 23 seconds for Sarah Clark in the ExCeL arena yesterday. The Edinburgh club fighter had entered the arena after shaking the tension from her arms, after waiting for a contest to finish. She faced Automne Pavia of France, a European bronze medallist, in the under-57kg division.
The contest went to a golden score, Pavia executed an uchi mata and Clark, the 34-year-old who was competing in her third and final Olympics, crashed to the floor, desperately trying to twist her body. Pavia screamed in delight and the French team rose as one in the stands to drown out the groans of a capacity home crowd.
The opponents, as tradition dictates, took up their positions and Pavia was formally awarded victory. Clark, who left her native South Shields at 16 to train in Edinburgh, initially appeared to challenge the decision but she bowed to the reality that London 2012 was over for her. There are no second chances in judo until the quarter-final stages when a repechage system comes into operation. The losers in the early rounds face a dramatic, final fate.
Slovaks, Canadians, Columbians, Portuguese and others all suffered the same pain as Clark on a morning when the field was cut ruthlessly.
Clark, who had picked up a passivity penalty midway through the contest, had company as a first-round loser but this was a singularly personal defeat for her.
Moments after she crashed to the mat, she had to face the press. The walk from desperate defeat to the refuge of a room in the Olympic village had to wind its way through awkward questions. Clark did not flinch.
"It was a definite score, a golden score," she said, dismissing any hint of controversy. "Initially, I thought I had done enough to turn out of it but that's why you have referees. I played the plan I wanted to against that girl but, unfortunately, an error at the end cost me the match. She did enough to win, she made the score and took the win."
Clark accepted the unforgiving nature of the sport she loves. She earned her black belt at the age of 15 after taking up judo at school and dedicating all her spare time to it. She once said judo was a way of life rather than a pastime.
Yesterday, she was visibly disappointed. The effects of coming down to a lower weight could be seen but there was a drawn quality that owed much to more recent events.
"You put every single day into this one day and it is tough, but that's sport. The No.2 seed went out in the first fight as well, and there's no comeback. It used to be a repechage system but you have to make the quarter-finals now before that kicks in."
She had no regrets, however, about her preparation. "You've got to put everything in and I went into it with no doubts I was in the best shape of my life. There was nothing more I could have done. I made one small error that possibly cost me an Olympic gold medal but I couldn't have done any more in my training or preparation – physical, mental or nutritional."
It seemed harsh to ask about her future in the turmoil of a painful present but Clark volunteered: "It's very emotional at the moment. I'm not the youngest athlete by any stretch at the Olympics. There will be lots of opportunities ahead of me, wherever they lie or whatever I do."
Clark, who won European gold in 2006, has spoken of a desire to take part in the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in 2014, said: "I'll take the next two weeks in the village to support the rest of the team and then decide where my future lies – within sport as a competitor or outside the mat as something else or maybe even outside the sport altogether. We'll just have to wait and see."
She was, though, typically positive about the future of British judo.
"There is massive potential and we have even more to come, we can only go up from here," she said. "We have got a good squad with chances for medals and some of the younger athletes will be able to take a lot from these Games to go on to Rio in 2016."
With that, she was allowed to go to face the private hell of a sportswoman who has given everything without any reward. As she moved towards some refuge from press and public, other losers crumpled into the arms of coaches or family.
One woman competitor, her identity hidden as she was comforted by a friend, sobbed deeply and heavily. It was over for her, too, after minutes. And after four long years of toil.
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