Stevenson bows out but content that she
did her best

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Amid all the trumpeting of records and medals, success and titles at London 2012, inspiration took another form yesterday in the shape of Sarah Stevenson.

Life for this remarkably brave Doncaster woman is about more than the quest for Olympic gold.

Defeat in the first round of the Olympic Under-67kg taekwondo competition is by no means the end of the world, not after the dark places she has been in the last 18 months.

In the space of three months last year she lost both her parents to illness.

Her father Roy died of a brain tumour in July, and she lost her mother Diane to cancer in October.

While they battled against their afflictions, Stevenson somehow mustered the strength to regain the world title she had first won 10 years earlier in May.

But with a knee ligament injury, sustained this January, to overcome as well as the hurt and despair of having her parents – her inspiration and her rocks – taken from her so mercilessly, a successful Olympics proved beyond the 29-year-old.

Stevenson was beaten 5-1 by American Paige McPherson in the first round yesterday morning, and was denied the chance to fight for bronze through the repechage when her unheralded conqueror failed to reach the final.

But in a typical act of courage, Stevenson stood tall when reflecting on the last 18 months.

“It puts it all into perspective,” she said.

“I went out there really focused, I wanted to win, I wanted to be here, I wanted to fight, but it does put it into perspective.

“This is meant to be fun. This is the Olympics, this is not life and death, and you should be here to have fun, go for it and give everything, and that’s what I did.

“It’s been hard. For the mental side, every single day in the last 18 months, every single day.

“I did my best. My dad wanted me to be here, so I am here and I know they (her parents) would be proud.

“I would have been forgiven to quit, sit in the corner and cry, but I am not a quitter and I would never have quit.

“I just wanted to be here and do my best, and have no regrets.

“I think I did well and I’m happy with how I performed.

“I didn’t know how good I would be, neither did anybody else, so the thing was to just come here and do my best, and I did.

“I wasn’t as good as I was before everything happened to me but I did do my best, under the circumstances.”

Whether injury was her downfall yesterday, she was uncertain, saying one minute that she felt fully fit and the next that she is not the fighter she was 18 months ago because of all that she has gone through.

In her peak she would have been more than a match for McPherson, who advanced mainly because of a successful kick to the head that she landed in the first of three rounds.

Stevenson trailed 5-1 at the end of the second and needed something special if she was to come back, but the only victory she enjoyed was overturning two kicks to the head that were wrongly awarded as giving three points each time to McPherson.

“She was a good fighter, but 18 months ago it would have been a different story,” said Stevenson.

“I was fit. My knee is as good as it can be after six months and everyone has been really pleased with it.

“Whether this would have been the same outcome as 18 months ago, maybe not, I would have been 100 per cent fit, not 99 per cent, and I wouldn’t have had to fight every single day for the last 18 months. I would have just been able to focus on taekwondo, but obviously that’s not the case.

“But there’s more important things.”

Stevenson was cheered on by close family, friends and around 20 people from her home town who have charted her progress from her debut as a teenager in Sydney, the world title in the 2001, the bronze in Beijing and the heartache of the last 18 months.

“They all had their flags and their t-shirts, and I know that if I lost first, or if I won gold, they were proud of me no matter what,” said Stevenson. “That’s the most important thing.

“GB have been so supportive of me throughout my career and especially over the last 18 months.

“I couldn’t have asked for anything more from the fans and from the people and my family have been a massive, massive support.”

So a Games that began with the humbling honour of reading the Olympic oath at the opening ceremony in front of a worldwide audience of billions, ended with a defeat but no regrets.

Stevenson will now take her time deciding what the future holds and whether she stays in taekwondo or not. With no Olympics on which to focus she can now at last let the emotions of the last 18 months pour out of her.