WHEN schoolgirl Milly Clark was running early morning laps around Youngtown Oval she dreamed of it leading to an Olympic Games.
What she didn’t expect was the event she would achieve it in.
I remember watching the Atlanta Olympics on an old black and white TV in St Leonards and thinking ‘I want to go there’.Milly Clark
Launceston-born Clark had strong grounds for dreaming big.
Her mother, Margaret, had been a gymnast at the Commonwealth Games and world championships and her aunt, Liz Jack, went to the 1976 Olympics as a diver.
In addition, Clark had taken to running like a duck to water, swiftly developing at East Launceston and Youngtown primary schools and blossoming with Youngtown Little Athletics Club.
But she always considered herself a sprinter.
When she represented Tasmania at the Pacific School Games in Sydney in 2000, she contested the 100 metres, 200m and long jump and always considered her pet event to be the 400m hurdles.
However, Clark was last week named alongside established Olympians Jess Trengove and Lisa Weightman as Australia’s three competitors in the women’s marathon for this year’s Games in Rio de Janeiro.
“I definitely wanted to go to an Olympics,” Clark recalled this week.
“I remember watching the  Atlanta Olympics on an old black and white TV in St Leonards and thinking ‘I want to go there’.
“But it was always going to be in the 400m or [400m] hurdles. I never expected it to be in the marathon.
“Even five years ago if someone had told me that was going to happen I’d have thought they were having a laugh.”
Clark’s path towards the marathon is almost as winding as her life journey from Launceston to Sydney, where she now trains with James Fitzgerald and represents Sydney University.
With both parents international school teachers, Clark left her native Tasmania aged 11 and moved to Germany for two years before continuing her education in Indonesia.
“The first six months in Germany I hated because I couldn’t speak the language and just wanted to go home.
“But after that I settled in, found a good running group I could join, got to know more friends and started to love it and after two years really did not want to leave.
“I used to do a lot of gymnastics and took it pretty seriously because that’s what my mum had done. In Germany I joined a club and tried to stick at it but it was difficult doing that and running.
“I tried to do both but mum and dad said if I wanted to be good at one, I’d have to pick between them because I was just doing too much. I guess running was just easier.”
Continuing her running in Jakarta, along with basketball and even rugby, Clark accepted a scholarship to Drake University in the US state of Iowa.
She eventually completed her education at the University of Sydney and, despite the support of the NSW Institute of Sport, insists she still calls Tasmania home.
Persuaded to explore longer distances, she claimed a bronze medal in the 3000m steeplechase at the 2011 Australian championships and upgraded to gold a year later when she also claimed a national cross-country bronze medal over 8km.
In 2014 she claimed another national bronze medal over 10,000m and last year added the Gold Coast and New Zealand half-marathon titles.
However, it was in Amsterdam last October that her Olympic fate was sealed, Clark clocking the eighth fastest Australian female time of 2:29.07 in her marathon debut, recording a Rio qualifying time in the process.
”I gave it a crack and it worked out quite well,” she said.
“I thought I could run the Olympic standard but did not know I could go that fast. It was a bit of a surprise but also awesome.
“When I got back to Sydney people were talking to me about Rio but I chose not to do another marathon before the [qualification] cut-off date. I guess that was a risk but no-one ran faster so it was kind of a good gamble.
“I’m extremely excited about it and just glad it’s now official and I can start my Rio training and keep my head down until August.
“I’m not really thinking about a time or a place in Rio I just want to run to my absolute best. My goal is to get to the end, cross that line and know I could not have done any better. I want to finish with no regrets.
“I would love to run a PB and think I am capable of that. I’ll just stick with the big guns and see what happens.
“The women’s marathon is on one of the first days of the athletics program so we get the rest of the week to enjoy it. I’m glad it’s like that.”
Clark, whose brother David still lives in Launceston and teaches at Riverside, admitted there is another reason behind limiting her marathon running.
“I’d like to think ignorance is bliss. With the first one you don’t know what pain you are in for at 30km and I think I’ve now forgotten what that was like so I’m ready to do it again.”
Even with such global goals awaiting her, Clark hasn’t forgotten where her love for running began when her father, Steve, was a teacher at Youngtown Primary School.
“Every morning before school we would drive up to Youngtown Oval and I’d run around it over hurdles in my school uniform. I just loved it.
“The first time I ran on the athletics track [at St Leonards] I thought it was the best thing ever.”