ALL going to plan, Sarah Adlington is hoping she is going to be third time lucky.

After two agonisingly close misses when it comes to Olympic qualification, things are looking on track for Scotland’s top judo player to finally make her Olympic debut.

Currently, Adlington is sitting pretty as a qualified athlete. There is only one event remaining before places are confirmed for the Games, the World Championships, which begin in Budapest today.

The British Olympic team will not be confirmed until the end of the month but within days, Adlington will know if she has done enough.

It is quite some pressure, which is why the 34-year-old is doing everything she can to block out thoughts of Tokyo. It is not easy though.

“I’m trying really, really hard to only focus on the Worlds and not look any further than that,” the 2014 Commonwealth Games champion says. “What’s hard though is that with qualification ending so close to the start of the Games because of Covid, we’re being sent different bits of paperwork to fill in just in case we make the team and that makes it impossible to not think about actually being there. 

“The Olympics are always in the back of my mind, especially with what’s gone previously with missing out in London and Rio. But that’s why I need to try even harder to focus only on the Worlds.”

Ranked 32 in the world, Adlington has yet to win a fight this year, but she is far from downhearted. With judo having been suspended for months due to the pandemic, all of Britain’s fighters were ring-rusty on their return and Adlington believes that slowly but surely, she is getting back to her best.

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“Even though I’ve not had the results I’d have wanted, I feel like I’ve been fighting all right and I’m not in a bad place,” she says. “I’m probably the best athlete I’ve ever been so I’m just hoping I can show that.”

This week will be Adlington’s seventh appearance at a World Championships with a medal having long been a target. She has not been far away, coming particularly close in 2018 when she was defeated in golden score for bronze.

While qualification for the Olympics is the ultimate goal this year, having yet another opportunity to win world silverware makes it easier to focus on the job in hand in Budapest.

“Getting a medal at the Worlds is a huge thing in itself. I’ve come so close in the past and before my career ends, I want to deliver what I know I can deliver, which is a major medal. Other than the Commonwealth Games, I’ve not done that so that’s a big deal for me.

“I think it’d feel like such a relief to win a world medal. I’ve been fighting at a high level for such a long time so to actually have something to show for it would be nice. 

“Obviously everyone wants to be on the podium but I’m trying to focus on giving it my best effort and if I do that, I know I’m capable of getting a medal. I feel like it’s in my hands.”

Adlington is no stranger to setbacks, having battled a number of injuries, with her most recent being a torn anterior cruciate ligament at the end of 2019, followed by a torn hamstring early last year.

This year, her bad luck continued. Following competitions in Georgia and Turkey, Adlington returned home only to test positive for Covid. She was not one of the lucky asymptomatic ones and felt well below par for a number of weeks.

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“I felt pretty rough so for a few weeks, I didn’t do much training and so while that isn’t great, the flip side is it might actually have given me a chance to reset and go again,” she says.  “And I think I’m completely recovered now.”

Following the retirement of Rio medallist Sally Conway a few months ago, Adlington is the only Scot in with a shout of making the judo team for Tokyo. She has recently been given the news that her personal coach, Billy Cusack, who has been at her side since 2005, will not be at the Games if she makes the team but that is just one of a number of issues she will wait until after the World Championships to process.

It has, she admits, been a year of challenges and obstacles unlike anything she has experienced before. But a decade-and-half of competing at the highest level brings with it a wealth of experience and Adlington is optimistic that she is in the best place to deal with the pressures this week.

“Before Rio, I honestly couldn’t win a fight with all the pressure of qualifying but I don’t feel like that this time,” she says. 

“I feel like it’s all going to click and click at the right time. I’m not looking at what anyone else is doing, I just want to deliver what I know I can do and then I’ll see where that leaves me.”