Sally Conway has today announced her immediate retirement from judo, calling time on a career that started over 26 years ago and has seen her become only one of two British female judoka to medal at the Olympic Games, World and European Championships and the Commonwealth Games.
The 34-year old will go down as one of Great Britain’s most accomplished athletes with some of the fiercest newaza skills that the world stage has ever seen.
Speaking about why she has chosen to make the decision now, Sally said: “I always said to myself ‘I will know when the times comes, and I am ready to stop’ regardless of results and performances. I wanted to know and feel when the right time to stop was.”
“I think had Tokyo 2020 gone ahead as planned last year, I 100% would have competed. The last year has given me a lot time to take a step back and reflect on the future and some may question the timing with Tokyo less than 6 months away, but in my heart I feel like now is the right time to take that step back.”
“I am so happy with what I have achieved within the sport and how my career has gone that I feel that is it for me now and I’m ready to close this chapter and see what the future holds.”
“I read my statement to my family last week and we all got quite emotional, but it was very much happy tears as we remembered all the good times and what we have been through.”
Reflecting on her impressive career, Sally recalled winning bronze at the Rio Olympic Games and World Championships in 2019 as her career highlights along with her victory at the Paris Grand Slam in 2018.
“The Worlds are special as it was my eighth World Championships. I also think my Paris Grand Slam gold was also my eighth appearance at the competition too.”
“That is something that is testament to my career, I have never given up. I always try to better myself and be the best that I can be. These results never ‘just happen’ there has been a lot of hard work behind the scenes that has gone into achieving these performances.”
“What made me so successful was having to deal with those losses earlier in my career. I have learnt so much from the low times that I was able to achieve the great performances later on and it made those successes all the sweeter knowing the journey I have been on.”
Talking about what she is going to miss being on the competitive international circuit Sally said: “I am going to miss travelling with my friends. I will miss being around everybody. Most of the stories that we remember are from travelling to and from competitions and training camps and being around friends.
“Judo has enabled me to make some great friends from all around the world, I will miss seeing them all as there were times that I was spending more time with my judo family than my actual family!”
Looking ahead to what the future holds Sally said: “Going forward I am keeping my options open. I would like to try coaching and pass on my experience to young athletes coming through. I also plan to do sports massage, and I also enjoy public speaking. I am just going to see what opportunities arise and see what I enjoy doing, I am really looking forward to seeing what the future holds. I have learnt so much through judo and being an elite athlete that I know I have a good foundation on which to build upon in the future.”Ronnie Saez, Chairman of British Judo, said: “Sally has been a pioneer for British Judo for a number of years and she will leave a big hole in British Judo. Her storied career will have inspired a range of new judoka to step onto the mat and we will always be grateful for her contribution both on and off the mat.”
“I will never forget some of her career highlights from watching her claim GB’s sole medal at the Rio Olympics to completing her international medal collection at the World Championships in Tokyo. The smile on her face throughout those events was infectious.”
“I would like to thank UK Sport and the National Lottery that have helped fund Sally’s journey to success. We are saddened that we won’t see her grace a judo mat again but wish her every success for the future!”
Nigel Donohue, British Judo Performance Director, said: “Sally retires leaving behind an incredible amount of fantastic memories in a career spanning over 17 years at elite level. In the last 5 years, Sally has dominated the 70kg weight category and achieved the ‘Grand Slam’ of winning a European, World and Olympic medal, plus a Paris Grand Slam gold and a Commonwealth Games bronze. This is no mean feat, as the last GB athlete to achieve such a set of results was Kate Howey, over 20 years ago.”
“We wish Sally all the very best in her future endeavours and have no doubt, her Judo experiences and application to her sport for so long, will transfer into being as much as a success she was on the mat as well as off it. Thank you Sally for all the great memories.”
Kate Howey, British Judo Head Coach, said: “I have watched and been involved with Sally as a judo fighter since she was 16 years old. There have been many highs and lows throughout this time and the highs far outweigh the lows. I have seen her mature from a young girl into an Olympic, World, European and Commonwealth medallist and watched her hard work payoff in the end.”
“I will miss the constant smile and happy aura that she brings whenever she walks into a room but I must say it was my pleasure to coach her and be part of the fantastic career that she has had and I wish her all the best for whatever is next on her journey.”