LUCY Renshall has come a long way in judo since the SKK club’s inspirational coach Peter Blood first rolled out the mats for the then eight-year-old and her St Julie’s classmates in Eccleston to have a six-week taste of the sport.

She was immediately bitten by the judo bug and 17 years later that journey in the sport reaches a pinnacle with Renshall boarding the plane to the Tokyo with Team GB for her first ever Olympics.

With just one place up for grabs in each division, the battle for selection in the -63kg category went down to the wire and became a tussle between her and fellow St Helener, SKK member and friend Amy Livesey.

Renshall believes that the battle between the pair to secure qualification has kept her focused for the huge task ahead and will ultimately stand her in good stead in Tokyo.

The 25-year-old said: “It was literally head-to-head until the last qualifying event and the World Championships was the last one for us both to qualify.

“Either of us could have gone after that event.

“It has allowed me to keep my focus, keep motivated and keep training every day.

“I have not just been selected and could ease off, but up to the very last event I knew I had to give it my all, 100 per cent every day and it has really driven me to get the results I needed.”

She admitted that is was unfortunate that Livesey could not have joined her in the six-strong judo squad heading to Tokyo, but the rules only allow for one player per weight division.

“Me and Amy are really good friends, and when I started at SKK Judo Amy was already there, so we have come from St Helens and we have both moved to the Centre of Excellence in Walsall together and have grown up together in judo,” she said.

“We are rivals on the mat but friends off and supportive of each other. I would have liked us both to go – that would have been ideal, but we can’t and both knew that.

“There was a respect between us both as athletes.”

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Renshall has consistently accrued qualification points, helped by a Gold at the 2021 Judo Grand Slam in Antalya.

In April’s World Championship in Budapest Renshall was defeated by world No.5 Andreja Leski in round three, but she had done enough to get the nod for Japan – even if the selectors made her wait.

She was informed of the decision a few days ago and was still bursting with excitement when she could actually announce her selection to friends and family on Monday.

Renshall is certainly no stranger to the big tournaments having claimed European bronze in 2018 at her first major senior event, having already won gold in the Under-23 and junior equivalents.

There will be a real sense of magic about competing in judo, in the sport’s birthplace, and in the arena that hosted the previous Olympics back in 1964.

But Renshall believes the fact that she has competed there before in a previous tournament will be beneficial – and she’s certainly not turning up just for a learning experience.

“The Olympics is huge, but it really helps that we have already competed at that venue before at a big event, we have been there and seen what it’s like already.

“It is my first Olympics and I want a medal, you don’t go to anywhere and not want to compete.

“But there’s definitely more Olympics to come after this one too so we will see what happens,” she said.

After 18 months of uncertainty, with the Games being off and on, and training shut down at one point, it has been a challenge for all the athletes.

There will undoubtedly be a big dollop of relief mixed in with the adrenaline and excitement when Renshall finally boards that plane out to Japan with the rest of Team GB – but that wait has intensified the anticipation.

“It has been hard, but we have done our best through it and everyone around us has been super supportive.

“The coaches at the Centre of Excellence have been amazing and put on just what we needed over lockdown, and I just want to get there and fight now and am looking forward to it.

“If anything, it has made it a little bit more special because we have waited so long for it,” she said.

Pictures: IJF