Judoka Gemma Howell slumped to a first round defeat at the Olympics but revealed the one silver lining that stopped her going barking mad – being gifted a new canine companion on her return to the UK.

The Stafford judoka fell in the first round of the women’s 70kg competition at the historic Nippon Budokan against Puerto Rican Maria Perez.

After the pair couldn’t be separated in normal time, referee Lubomir Petr twice penalised

Howell, for passivity in the golden score stage, meaning the Brit suffered defeat in a time of eight minutes.

But Howell’s family remained so proud of her Olympic efforts they surprised her with a special gift upon her arrival back at Heathrow Airport – a yellow Labrador named Kiara.

And the 31-year-old, one of over 1,000 athletes who are able to train full-time, access to the world’s best coaches and benefit from pioneering technology, science and medical support thanks to vital National Lottery funding, said: “The biggest thing to happen in my life since Tokyo is that when my mum and sister came to pick me up at the airport, they brought my new puppy.

“They met me at Heathrow airport with Kiara, and she’s just been filling my life with craziness ever since.

“I’m very much a dog person, but unfortunately, my dog Roxy, my first dog, passed away shortly before the Olympics, so this a Roxy two.

“My last dog was very untrained and very naughty, she was the best dog in the world, but very naughty.

“I think it’s really good because when I came back to London, I was like: ‘I’ve been training for something all my life that now I don’t have,’ so, it was really good just to have something that was a distraction.

"It meant that I didn’t get that massive low that some athletes get after an Olympics.”

Howell would have needed a boost after a disappointing performance in Tokyo, but the IJF

Grand Prix gold medal winner stressed that she was proud to have attended the Games in the first place.

She’ll be bidding to come back stronger and add to the 1,000-plus Olympic and Paralympic medals achieved by British athletes since National Lottery funding to elite sport started in 1997 when she bids to descend on Paris 2024 in three years’ time. 

Howell added: “Obviously at the time, it was quite raw because my goal and dream was to win at an Olympic Games.

“But I just have to remind myself that a year before the Olympics, the goal was just to get there.

“Actually, that was what I always dreamed of, so I need to be so proud that I managed to accomplish that.

“If someone asks me how Tokyo went, I say it was an incredible experience.

“For it even to be held in the pandemic, Japan did an excellent job.”

No one does more to support our Olympic and Paralympic athletes than National Lottery players, who raise more than £30 million each week for good causes including grassroots and elite sport. Discover the positive impact playing the National Lottery has at www.lotterygoodcauses.org.uk and get involved by using the hashtag: #TNLAthletes