Karina Bryant may be battling back from career-saving neck surgery months after securing an Olympic bronze medal at the start of the new Olympiad – but glorious comebacks are her style.
The 33-year-old former Tolworth Girls’ School student is one of Team GB’s greatest Olympians and finally earned a podium finish in the 78kg category at her fourth attempt at the London 2012 Games.
It was a far cry from the moment she saw her funding slashed by judo’s governing body in the wake of only reaching the last 16 in
Critics wrote her off as being past her best, but a year later she was adding world and European medals to her staggering collection of honours away from the Olympics.
Bryant, who has had a new disc inserted in her neck, expects to make a return to full contact training in March and is yet to rule out a bid for a fifth Games in Brazil.
It may take another four years of financial hardship – she had to make a public appeal for cash to buy a car to get training in the build-up to London – but few would bet against her going the distance again.
“I’ve had 21 European and world medals. My first European title was in 1998 in the senior team – when I was still only a junior,” said the four-tme European champion.
“Since then, there are only two, possibly three years where I haven’t had a European or world medal. What I’ve done in the sport has been phenomenal. I’m the most consistent judo player the country has ever had and won the most medals.
“It hasn’t been as financially rewarding as other sports. That is hard, because whenever I do decide to retire I have to start the next chapter of my life from scratch. This medal will not buy a house or a car.
“Those things would have been nice along the way. It would have made things a little easier but then it wouldn’t have made my journey as memorable.
“I carried on for so many years when so many people doubted me. Even after Beijing I went from getting top funding to nothing.
“People saying I’m too old, when I was saying ‘I’ll decide when I’m too old’. In 2009, I had a world medal and a European medal again and I’ve now just had the best year of my life.
“I still really enjoy the sport. I’ll take it a year at a time and if I can make Rio that would be fantastic.”
Four months on from her greatest moment, Bryant collected the sports personality of the year award at the Surrey Sports Awards last month.
And the Camberley Judo Club star has not tired of talking of her moment in the spotlight – she doubts she ever will.
“I’ve waited a long time to call myself an Olympic medallist. I’ve been an Olympian for 12 years, so to finally say I’m a medallist too is not boring,” she said.
“Life has changed in the way I get recognised a little more. I get to do things I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to do before, like going into schools and talking to kids who are just in awe of what happened in the summer.
“Has my life actually changed? I still struggle with bits and pieces, but judo is just judo really.
“It is not a really high profile sport where you’re going to make a lot of money and I don’t see that changing. I didn’t do it for that though.
“To get these bits of recognition I am getting now is what it is all about for me.”
And as for her car?
“Being here is like a dream come true,” she said at the Surrey Sports Awards ceremony at Mercedes-Benz World in Weybridge.
“Since I was a kid I asked Father Christmas for a Mercedes.
“It was always at the top of my list, but I never got one. I got a tiny little Matchbox one once and then I got a slightly bigger one a year later
“I’m hoping as I get older I will eventually get a real one.”