Her season may have been blighted by injury but Nekoda Smythe-Davis has her eyes set on gold at the World Judo Championships in Tokyo.
The 26-year-old judoka spent five months out after having minor surgery on her shoulder in February but made a rousing return with bronze at the Zagreb Grand Prix in July.
Smythe-Davis is not short of medals to her name, having won bronze and silver at the 2017 and 2018 Judo World Championships respectively but now, with Olympic qualification in sight, she’s determined to go one better in Japan.
“It’s been a tough year, but I was thrilled to make a strong return from injury and I think I am in a strong position going into the World Championships,” said Smythe-Davis.
“After medalling at the previous two world tournaments, I would love to beat my own achievements and win gold at this year’s Worlds.
“I think I am more than capable, so I am setting my sights on the top podium spot.
“Winning the semi-final last year was one of the best moments of my career so far. The feeling of knowing you can become world champion is so exciting.
“If I get to the same position this year, I will be even more focused to win gold.
“My main target is to go out and perform as well as I know I can. I know if I do that, the medal will come.”
Smythe-Davis, who competes in the women’s -57kg category, was in no hurry to return to action after her shoulder injury.
She withdrew from the European Games in June as a precaution – a decision she deemed vital to safeguard her hopes of competing at the 2020 Games.
“I didn’t feel close enough to being 100% ready,” she explained.
“You have to be 100% sure you are fit, especially at this time in the cycle – one year out from the Olympic Games.
“It’s too dangerous to take a risk. I wanted to be fully confident that I could go out and compete to the best of my potential.
“I’ve had a difficult year, but I’ve had a brilliant team around me, and everything is heading in the right direction.
“You have to make those small steps every day towards the bigger picture.”
As a current World Championship silver medallist, Smythe-Davis is no stranger to the expectation that comes with a place on the global stage.
But with this year’s Championships taking place in Tokyo – the home of judo and the host city of next year’s Olympic Games – she knows it is going to be bigger and better than any tournament yet.
“The excitement of competing in the World Championships never wears off but this year is particularly special because we get to do a dry-run of next year’s Olympics,” Smythe-Davis added.
“We will find out how to deal with the atmosphere, the jet lag and the humidity of the country, making it an important learning lesson ahead of next year.
“Japan is the home of Judo and nothing will ever beat competing there. The crowds will be huge and to look around and see a full stadium is just the best feeling.
“We’re going to feel like footballers do in England! It can be nerve-wracking, but if you use the atmosphere to your advantage it can really get you up for the fight and take your performance to the next level.
“There’s no better time to get out to Japan and compete at the highest level of judo than now.”