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Tony Clark - Written by Tets Kimura (interviewed on 28/10/01)

Tony Clark is one of the leading judo players in Australia (from South Australia), actively competing at international level. He is also a professional motivation speaker, and plays guitar in a newly formed music band. “Life is good” are his words – and I shall add, he is totally blind.

“Some people think when you have a disability it is the worst thing imaginable. It is this very thinking that is the problem” said Tony, 40, who became blind after a car accident in 1978. He said he has accepted the accident since it was his fault – he had drunk a fair amount of alcohol on the night he had the accident. “The car accident changed my life forever and was probably the best thing to ever happen to me.”

In 1980, Tony went to his local YMCA then told a judo instructor “I would like to learn judo, thank you very much!” The instructor was surprised – he had never trained a blind person, and Tony had never seen judo being played.

Tony chose judo because it was one of the rare sports that has no special rules for blind people, so he thought he may not be disadvantaged as much as in other sports. He proved his theory at his first interclub competition – his oguruma won him the competition. Tony said he did not even understand what had happened, but he soon realised he had won and felt “quite nice.” He then began to take the sport seriously.

While Tony made his debut in judo, he also began his life as a backpacker. He hitchhiked with his guide dog – travelled around Australia and New Zealand for a few years. Most people he met during the travel were surprised (including Dawn Fraser – who is still a good friend of his), but he has proven he is as capable as he was in judo. “Travel made me more responsible, and helped me discover a feeling of freedom” Tony said.

In 1992, Tony qualified as a black belt, and also represented Australia at the Barcelona Paralympics, at which he was the favourite – even though he was Australia’s first Paralympic judo player. Unfortunately, due to the pressure, he lost every single fight – ending up in tears.

The following year, Tony got the bronze medal at the Australian National Titles, along with other sighted players. It was once considered impossible for a blind person to achieve a medal at the national level, but Tony proved the belief wrong.

In 1996, Tony went to the Atlanta Paralympics. This time, he stopped being nervous soon after the competition begun. He even felt like he was “a cold blooded killer ready to rip the opponent apart.” As a result, he won every single fight – winning the gold medal. He said “I was so happy that I kissed the umpire.”

Tony acknowledges the Sydney Paralympics was the best sporting event he has ever attended. He carried the torch at the opening ceremony in front of 100,000 people at Stadium Australia. More importantly, all competitors were treated as athletes (not disabled players) – which created a great atmosphere. Tony ended up seventh, and he admitted he was disappointed – though he also said “I couldn’t have prepared any better. It just wasn’t my day.”

These days, Tony trains for judo four times a week, preparing for the world championships next year. Despite his successful judo career, he said he still has not reached his potential in the sport yet, and he is realistic about his age. He, nevertheless, says he will be involved in judo for the rest of his life – although the sport is not the only thing he commits. He enjoys playing guitar, and also is taking his speaking career seriously. He has already had an opportunity to talk at the Australian embassy in Tokyo, where judo originated. He said he is still passionate about travelling, and is as pleased at being able to travel in his job, as he was to hitchhike 20 years ago.

“Everything I have achieved I did because I wanted to do it. This wasn’t to prove a point or to show people that disabled people can do anything they want” said Tony. His quest still continues.

Central Zone Titles' Report - Written by Tets Kimura

The Central Zone Judo Titles were held at the Sport Centre at the Levels campus on Sunday 8/4/01. The event is one of annual state competitions in the sport. It is an important event for state players, since this competition is usually held only weeks before the national titles. The players already nominated for the national titles have a final chance to finely tune their moves.

This year, the event featured 65 players; 14 girls, 25 boys, 9 women, and 17 men. There were about 150 spectators in total; those people are believed to be families and friends of the competitors. The event was also open to the public, but as judo is a minor sport in Australia (especially in SA) it was highly unlikely for the public to attend the event. Judo in South Australia has no PR person and little public interest.

Edo Colliver, the event organiser, said the results of the competition would appear on The Advertiser within a few days, but they did not appear in. The Advertiser on the following Tuesday and Wednesday had several sporting results from the weekend, but no judo. They had major sports such as cricket and basketball and some minor sports such as cycling. I called The Advertiser to ask why the results of judo did not appear, but their answer was simple - "We don't know." Perhaps, judo is not even worthwhile for them to think of.

A university student, Kristina Kollis, who has been training judo for six months, attended the event as a spectator. It was her first experience of real judo. Kristina said she enjoyed competitions between standard players, and learnt more about the sport. However she also admitted most of the children's competitions were boring, and a few competitions caught her attention.

For judo to grow, it is important to keep children in the sport. Children are the future hope for judo, and it is crucial for them to stay in the sport as they grow up. Kristina said "I've always wanted to do something like judo, karate or any of those other sports, partly for self-defence but mainly just fitness and fun. I just never got around to it and didn't know anyone who wanted to do it with me."

Children who start their career at an early age have a greater chance of success in the sport. Chelisa Engel is third in Australia and has been in the sport since she was five. A candidate for Sydney 2000, judo is her life. No one in SA can beat her, and she won all her competitions by Ippon.

However, her motivation in the sport has not been the competition itself, but something she can get from the sport. She said "Judo makes me confident, physically fit, and gives me a social life", but she did not say anything about the sport itself. It seems that she loves the sport but this is as far as she can be involved in judo. Practically, she does not receive any financial benefit from judo - She has no sponsorship and has to pay for each competition including the national titles, which are held interstate every year.

A major sport in Australia, such as swimming, provides a full support to its top athletes. For example, Ian Thorpe, is now a top swimmer, earns financial income from swimming, which makes him able to live on the sport. The sport is a part of his life as like Chelisa, although the size of the sports makes the difference.

Judo is no longer a Japanese martial art, but an international sport. In fact, the sport is a quite big in East Asia and many European countries. The sport had the fourth biggest venue in Sydney 2000, which was fully packed for all seven days of competitions. Judo does not look dynamic as karate or kick boxing, but it (and Tae Kwon Do) are the only martial arts played in the Olympics. However, judo in Australia is not well recognised. There was absolutely no media coverage of Olympic judo in Australia, even on pay-television.

Harshil Shah, a university student, recently arrived from India enjoyed competing. He said "Judo in Australia is different to judo in India, but it is still the same sport and the same techniques are used." The regulations (made by IJF - International Judo Federation) have been changing every year or two, and this seems becoming in favour of the media attraction - this is what an international sport needs to concentrate on. For example, blue judogi was introduced a few of years ago, to help audiences identify players easier.

However, judo seems to stay where it is in Australia. It has only little public interest, and Australia is far behind the rest of the world. This is a big dilemma for Australian judo, and it is not easy to solve the problem. But there are people who love the sport, and that creates the future possibilities of the sport. It will be a long and big step, but one day we might overtake the rest of the world.