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Despite losses, ever-green Austrilian judoka bids farewell to Paralympics with smile
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21:30, September 09, 2008

Aging finally caught up with Athony Clarke as the legendary Australian judoka bid farewell to his fifth, also the last Paralympics at Beijing with two quick losses in the under 90kg class on Tuesday.

Fate has prepared another hard test as the athletic finale for the 47-year-old Australian, who was deprived of his vision following a car accident when he was a teenager.

After a first-round bye, the five-time Paralympian, also the oldest competitor in men's judo event at the Beijing Games, came across old rival, Athens silver medalist Russian Oleg Kretsul in his first match. The Athens loss repeated as the Russian throw Clarke for ippon within 29 seconds, which sent Clarke to the repechage, his last chance for a medal.

However, rich experience could barely help the once Atlanta Games champion take much advantage in the martial art-like competition against the 19-year-old Abel Vazquez.

Clarke's attacks went into nil, though he often pulled Vezquez down to tatami with brilliant techniques, the robust Spaniard always managed to get rid of his suppress.

The result of the five-minute bout came with no surprise as Vezquez won the match with a Waza-ari, two Yukos and one Koka. The exciting young men jumped and raised his arms high, yelling joys of victory, while Clarke pulled himself up from the tatami and rest his hands on knees, gasping for breath.

However, disappointment can hardly be read from the sweaty face of the burned-out Australian, when he was going through the mixed zone at the Worker's Gymnasium, putting his hand at the shoulder of his coach.

"Maybe, happy ending only appears in novels or Hollywood movies,"said Clarke, smiling as sweat dropped along his curly long hair.

"it is a shame that an old dog didn't have more tricks. But that's how should be, the young ones beating the old ones, natural selections," he said.

"To me, finishing participating is the biggest joy of them all. You don't see Paralympians dropped out of races because they are not winning. He (Vezquez) has good future. He is so young and I hope he stays injury-free."

Starting training in 1980, Clarke began his international career in 1990. He made his Paralympic debut in 1992, and was ranked No. 1 in the world from 1992 to 1998, punctuated by a Paralympic title in Atlanta in 1996.

In 1997, Clarke was awarded the Order of Australia Medal in recognition of his achievements and he was even ranked higher than his able-bodied counterparts to be named the Australian Judo Champion in the following two years.

Though the shine as a judo star may fade, but Clarke had no plan to quit from Judo. As a renown motivational speaker at his hometown in Adelaide of South Australia, Clark has also been running a club to train blind judokas for five years.

All Clarke's trainee now are in able-bodied clubs and he has also seen hopes at the younger generation.

"We get four juniors, all training and competing in able-bodied clubs. Perhaps not in London (Paralympics), but in the next one, they can compete. Is it nice some one carrying on your dreams at the Games?" he said.


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