At the Atlanta Games in 1996, Anthony Clarke became the only Australian to win a gold medal in Judo in Paralympic or Olympic competition.
While that achievement will always take pride of place for the five-time Paralympian, it was an extraordinary gesture by an opponent at the Sydney Games four years later that has stayed in his mind to this day.
“Winning the gold medal was a great relief, a big load off my shoulders,” Clarke says.
“But I think the most emotional moment I had in my career was with my nemesis Run Ming Men, from China. He’d beaten me in the FESPIC Games [Far East and South Pacific Games for the Disabled] but, when I beat him in Atlanta in the final, I remember he was crying on the podium next to me. I beat him again at the World Championships in ’98 and he was crying again. At the time, China was paying their athletes $100,000 for a win and $50,000 for a silver, so each time I beat him he lost 50 grand. After those World Championships, he realised he wasn’t going to beat me again so he went up a division and that was that.
“In Sydney I came ninth or something and Run Ming Men won the gold medal. Then, blow me down, the next day I was commiserating in my room and there was a knock at the door. Standing there, with his coach and an interpreter, was Run Ming Men. He shook my hand and said ‘Tony, I know how hard it is to lose’.
“It was such a touching moment for me. He’d just won the gold medal he’d wanted so badly, yet he came to visit me to have a chat and see how I was going. To me, that’s what sportsmanship is all about and what our sport is all about.”
Clarke’s career was a triumph of determination, dedication and mental rehearsal. The vision impaired former judoka had what he describes as “an out-of-body experience” during the Atlanta medal presentation, looking down from above, overcome by a calm euphoria. But, in a similar vein to the sportsmanship of Run Ming Men, what Clarke loved most about judo was the camaraderie and respect between the athletes.
“It led to so many unusual friendships I made,” he says. “Which you mightn’t expect in a combat sport like judo.
“I loved competing in Japan, for instance, because you’d all sit around on the mat afterwards and celebrate with people you’d just been trying to kill. Those ironic moments you remember for a lifetime.
“You get that feeling when you’re in the village too. You’re there with four or five thousand of the most motivated people in the world. It’s a tremendous buzz. When you’re around so many people who are so positive, it’s just a fantastic feeling.”
Such experiences allowed Clarke to create a diverse working life as an inspirational speaker, judo coach and writing musical pieces for theatre. Recently, he completed a course in massage for dogs. His success and open approach to life, he says, has been fostered by the people he’s been fortunate to have around him.
“To win a gold medal, you need so many people to support you,” he says. “Even down to your neighbours clearing your letterbox when you’re overseas. Little things like that. There’s a phenomenal number of people who help you reach that goal. It was really fantastic to be a part of all that.”
To read more about Anthony Clarke and other icons of our movement, visit paralympichistory.org.au.
By: David Sygall, Paralympics Australia
Posted: 13 August 2020