AMY CONNELL never envisaged herself preparing for her Olympic debut by playing a souped-up version of whack-a-mole.

With the pandemic having put a stop to contact sport for the best part of a year, Scotland’s top karate player and Olympic medal hopeful has been forced to sharpen her reactions by using a flashing light contraption devised by her coach to keep her reactions as fast as possible.

It is stating the obvious to say Connell’s inability to train as normal is far from ideal.

The 26-year-old has spent years dreaming of becoming an Olympian. As a child, it seemed an impossible goal; when Connell was growing up, karate was not an Olympic sport but when the announcement came in 2015 that it would be included in the Tokyo 2020 programme, the Paisley fighter could barely contain her excitement.

However, had someone told her that just a few months out from the Games, she would be training by chasing flashing lights, she would barely have believed it.

But with the current circumstances forbidding contact for such a lengthy spell, Connell was forced to adapt and do whatever she could to stay in as good shape as possible.

“My coach got me training with flashing lights and that’s really kept my reaction speed up which has been huge because that’s one of the most important things in karate,” she says.

“We’ve been doing our coaching sessions over Zoom and I’m so glad we’ve had that but it’s really not the same.

“It’s not perfect training circumstances by any stretch but we’ve just tried to make the most of it.”

Connell is no stranger to overcoming obstacles.

Aged 20, she suffered multiple fractures in both legs, and was told her career as an elite athlete was over.

However, she refused to accept that suggestion and after over a year out, made her comeback.

The effort turned out not to be in vain; in 2018, Connell made history by becoming the first Scot to represent GB in karate at a major multi-sport event when she was selected for the European Games in Minsk, and she also won her first major championship medal when she took bronze at the European Championships.

It is that injury-plagued spell of her life, in which she was forced to develop extreme durability, that she believes has helped her cope with this current crisis everyone is living through.

“I definitely believe that what I went through with my injury made me stronger both as an athlete but also as a person,” she says.

“When everything began to kick-off with Covid I was thinking ok, I’ve dealt with tough things before, I can deal with this.

“I feel like you always have to give everything your absolute best shot – that’s all you can do and so whatever you’re faced with, you have to just power through.”

With many other countries having resumed contact training months ago, Connell admits she feel like she is lagging behind somewhat.

However, she retains the belief that she will be back to her very best in plenty of time to secure her seat on the plane to Tokyo.

“I do have the confidence I’ll be back at the level I was at,” the -55kgs fighter says.

“I’m not naïve, I know it’ll take a little bit of time to get used to that kind of contact training again but my body has been doing this for years so it’ll hopefully not take long.”

Connell is now within touching distance of her first competitive outing for a year.

Next week, she will travel to Turkey to compete in her first post-pandemic tournament, with another couple of events scheduled before the Olympic qualifiers take place in June.

Having endured so many months with no sign of events in the calendar, Connell admits she is counting the hours until she can get those competitive juices flowing once again.

“I absolutely cannot wait to get back competing - I’ve missed the feeling of walking onto the mat so much,” she says.

“When you know you’ve done all the hard work and you’re ready to go, there’s nothing like it.”

With karate omitted from the Olympic programme in 2024, Connell is well aware that Tokyo may well be her one and only chance for Olympic glory. It has certainly been a more testing qualification than most Olympians are forced to endure but Connell harbours no bitterness; instead, she is well aware that the struggles of the past year will only make the achievement of becoming an Olympian, and potentially winning a medal, all the more special.

“No one could have ever seen this last year coming but I’m a firm believer that all obstacles can be overcome,” she says.

“When things are tough, it just makes it all the better when you actually achieve it so I think that’s what Tokyo will feel like.

“There’s been so many ups and downs over the past year that when the Olympics begin, it’ll feel even sweeter knowing what we all had to do to get there.”