AS an athlete you always want to be able to decide when to step away from competitive sport.

Sadly many athletes don’t have the choice. And even for those who do, it will be one of the most challenging decisions you will ever make – an extremely stressful process.

The mental side of sport has always fascinated me. We have to remember that behind each athlete is a person.

Covid has caused massive uncertainty around sporting fixtures. Leaving many athletes training from their living rooms and gardens, it is definitely not the best preparation for an Olympics.

In many ways my sport of cycling has not been too bad as there are plenty of options to train – outdoors and even indoors.

I remember watching videos of Scottish judo star Sally Conway training from her house last year to prepare for the Olympics.

It was inspiring to see how focused she was and disciplined around her training.

But ultimately for a sport like judo, you need to be on the mat fighting.

I remember meeting Sally after the London games.

Having grown up doing martial arts, I always had huge respect for the training these athletes do.

Many of us will have memories of the legendary Brian Jacks on Superstars showing just how incredibly fit these athletes are.

And on a personal level it was a local judo athlete in Inverness who was one of my first inspirations to start lifting weights.

So with the Olympics fast approaching, it must have come as a shock for many that this great athlete had decided to step away from the mat this week.

When I read that Sally was calling it a day, I had just read about a 19-year-old footballer called Bobby Copping who had suffered a head injury after heading a ball more than seven months ago.

His routine heading of aball had left him in hospital for four days.

The young athlete has struggled with medical issues since and had to close the door on a promising football career before it had really got started.

I could feel a certain level of empathy for Bobby as even at my age letting go of most of my sporting dreams due to my tumour constantly recurring over the last 11 years has been harder than any training session.

So it was nice to read Sally’s decision that was one she had made based on how her heart felt.

Twenty six years of any sport is hard on the body, but 26 years of judo takes a serious toll.

It is testament to what an incredible athlete she has been that she had such a long career.

I am sure there were many lows during a 26-year career too, mind you.

Even the best athletes go through low times. It is part of being human.

But I can understand her decision to step away now, even with Tokyo just around the corner.

Judo at the Olympics in Tokyo would have for sure been one of the main sports, and the venue a very special one.

But the true Olympic experience will be missing this time around, so it will purely be about the performance.

One of my good friends has said he will fly in, compete and fly out.

Winning an Olympic medal could be a once-in-a-lifetime chance and you don’t want to miss that.

But she retires as the current Olympic Bronze medalist – having created history becoming Scotland’s first ever Olympic judo medalist in Rio.

Watching he achieve that in front of friends and family was one of my highlights in sport as I watched it on TV from my spinal rehab centre.

During my time in sport, I always had a philosophy – happy athletes are fast athletes.

It was great to read that one of the best lessons Sally learned from 26 years of sport was to do what makes you happy.

“When I was happy, both on and off the mat my performance improved and when I performed really well medals followed,” she said.

“The medals didn’t follow every time but as long as I performed, took it one fight at a time and left it all on the mat.”

I remember Chris Hoy saying something similar about leaving it all on the track, and this is something I tell myself regularly about life in general.

Sally medalled at all the major championships around the world and is a great inspiration to so many youngsters. If you apply yourself and commit to a goal like her, anything really is possible.