Dan Clark: Hanging tough

How a gentle-giant graduate is aiming for Olympic glory in his home city

At 2.1 metres tall, Dan Clark is used to standing out from the crowd. And this summer, the eyes of the world will be on him for another reason as he steps onto the basketball court to fulfil his dream of winning a medal for Great Britain at the London 2012 Olympic Games.

Having a basketball coach and a former international basketball player for parents, it’s not surprising to find Dan somewhere near a hoop he’s practically been dribbling balls since he was dribbling himself. I’ve been around basketball my whole life, he says. With my mum and dad working in the sport, I didn’t really have much of a choice. I’ve been playing since I can remember.

But growing up in London, the opportunities to seriously pursue a sport that has a relatively low profile in the UK were limited. Aged 13, Dan was talent-scouted and left the family home, moving to Spain to join the Asefa Estudiantes club in Madrid. It was a big shock to the system to leave the country by myself, he says. I was only 13, so I didn’t realize the magnitude of what I was doing. I had to get used to the language, the people, the food and being on my own.

It was in Spain that Dan came across the IB, choosing to enrol in the MYP at the International College Spain (ICS). I could have stayed in the British system at a number of different schools, he says.

I thought that the IB programmes would suit me much better. You aren’t purely judged on your final exams and it prepares you for life after school. And there were nearly 50 nationalities at my school, so I was studying with people from lots of different cultures.

After completing the MYP, Dan moved on to the IB Diploma Programme, as well as playing professional basketball. Juggling training with studies proved challenging: I was practising in the morning, in the afternoon, away playing at weekends... I understood that my teachers could help me out to an extent, but they couldn’t let me get away with not handing in a piece of work. Some people thought I wouldn’t be able to cope with the studies, but I concentrated on my final goal.

That dedication will come in handy at the London 2012 Olympic Games this summer. For Dan, it will be extra special. It will be the biggest and best thing I’ve ever done, he says. To be able to play in the Olympic Games is one thing, but to be able to play in the Games when they’re in your back garden is another thing entirely. 

Even though Dan plays in Spain most of the year (the general public in Britain has no interest in the sport. Hopefully the Olympics will solve this), he still says he feels 100 per cent British. I’ve been focused on making the team since I was in Trafalgar Square and it was announced we were hosting.

As a professional athlete, being highly competitive is part of the deal, and Dan admits that being on a losing team is not a great place to be. But even though Great Britain are outsiders for a medal with the USA expected to cruise to gold as usual it won’t affect his love of the game.

I’m so happy playing basketball, he says. Some people on the professional circuit call it a job, but I don’t, because a job can be something you don’t enjoy. I always dreamed of playing professionally. Now I am, it’s a dream come true.

Join Dan and fellow alumni in the IB alumni network, by visiting the IB alumni network blog at blogs.ibo.org/alumni, where you can learn more about this growing community and ways to get involved.