Commonwealth medallists prepare for World Championships

Four Commonwealth medallists are putting in the final preparations ahead of the World Championships at a training camp at the National Centre of Excellence based at the University of Wolverhampton in Walsall this week.

The championships are set to take place in Chelyabinsk, Russia, later this month (between 25 and 30 August) and comes hot on the heels of the Glasgow Commonwealth Games.

The last few weeks have been busy for the members of British Judo’s selected squad who have been drawn from three of the home nations. Britain is sending just a four-strong team out to Russia, which will include England’s Commonwealth Games gold medalists Ashley McKenzie (-60kg), Colin Oates (-66kg) and Natalie Powell (-78kg) as well as Sally Conway, the under-70kg world number six who fought to a bronze for Scotland in Glasgow.

Commonwealth and Olympic silver medallist Gemma Gibbons was initially selected for the squad and joined them on their warm weather training camp in Rio Major, Portugal immediately after the Games where she injured her ankle and was forced to pull out of the Championships.

Randori during the World camp

Judo enjoyed fantastic success at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow between July, showcasing the sport as a whole and took home scores of medals from across the home nations.

Lead women’s coach Kate Howey (MBE), a former world champion who before 2012 was Britain’s last Olympic medallist, having won silver at the Sydney Games – is confident the elite fighters can make an impact on what will be the toughest field possible with each nation able to submit two athletes per weight category.

“This is probably the smallest team we have ever taken to a World Championships, but we set the criteria that high so we were only taking true medal prospects,” said Howey. “Both the girls are well ranked now, with Sally in the top six, so with a good draw, they should be around the medal fights.”

Now they are ready for the week ahead where they will undertake further training and high impact randori in preparation for the World Championships.

Natalie Powell

Furthermore the International Judo Federation (IJF) World Championships is a chance to build upon the success of the Games and raise the profile even further.

Natalie Powell, whose Commonwealth gold saw her revered on a Welsh stamp, said: “It has been pretty hectic as we went straight off to Portugal for a conditioning camp, which was a bit of a shock to the system because it was pretty intense after all the highs of the Commonwealth Games. “While it was not the most pleasant of weeks, I am glad we did it because I feel good now heading into the World Championships.

“I feel over the last year I have been slowly progressing and that now I am capable of getting a World Championship medal provided I can bring my best performance on the day.

“I just have to keep training with the intensity high and I can show what I did in Glasgow when taking on the best in Russia.”

Ashley McKenzie said: “There hasn’t been much downtime since winning my Commonwealth medal as there are only four weeks until the championships. We went straight to a warm weather camp after the Games and now here we are at the world training camp. Colin and I feel that it is pretty amazing that we were selected as the only two boys. We are expected to do well. We have a bit of pressure. All of the results helped to reset the bar for us. It is good to be in that position, it is really amazing and you have to take every opportunity you can get.

Ashley McKenzie

“You have to put everything right on the day and I’ve been working with a sports psychologist who has been giving me little goals such as ‘look at that fighter, tell me how you are going to beat him’. In battle, little things like this can be the difference between winning and losing. I only have small little margins and I see it for the whole team. All of us are in the top 15. I am aiming to get into the top seven. To win, I believe you have to get into the quarter finals and then you can easily take a medal.

“I love the sport, and would give to have a world medal to add to my Commonwealth Gold.

“I will go to Rio and I think even the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. I have my sights set on an Olympic medal.”

Colin Oates said: “We checked out of the village pretty early on the Sunday and we had a really good conditioning camp. I’m in a weight category where 80 per cent are the best in the world. It will be the first competition where I am seeded so I will be testing myself.

“I believe I can beat anyone on my day. I’ve gone up against the best in the world and now I need to put them all together on the day.

“We had great exposure in our sport and this is our chance to keep judo in the public eye. This is a fantastic sport for young players and we need to keep climbing the rankings to make a good showing for the public.”

Sally Conway added: “Since the Commonwealths didn’t go my way, although I am still glad I got a bronze medal, I have my sight set on a Commonwealth medal.

“I used Portugal to reflect on what I need to do next and I looking forward to the championships. I am in a really good position at the moment in terms of seeding and hope I can come away with a medal. I need to focus on my strength and think of what I need to do to win. I’m best when I relax and need to learn not to put pressure on myself so I can perform.”

Gibbons hopes her latest injury setback will not impact on her own future ambitions.

She said: “I knew it was going to take a couple of months for me to get back to full sharpness after my shoulder surgery but felt I was getting there, so this now is very frustrating and bad timing with the World Championships coming up.

Gemma Gibbons

“However, I know that when I am my best I can be one of the best in the world, so I will just have to keep doing the rehab to get back as soon as possible, but most importantly in good shape. “No athlete gets to the top without their share of injuries, hopefully this will be my last one and I can concentrate coming back strong from it.

“It is tempting to try to come back sooner because you want to get stuck in again on the mat, but you have to think about the long run – my aim is (the Olympics in) 2016, so I need to make sure I get myself fully fit and in a position where I am ready to qualify, then to do a good job when I get there.”

The Low Down


The Championships start at 11am Russian time approx 6am BST and the final block at 5pm approx 12pm BST.

About Chelyabinsk

The capital of a huge Russian region with one part located in Europe and the other in Asia is home to more than a million people. The Chelyabinsk region or South Urals is one of the largest industrial regions of Russia. On the other hand, picturesque landscapes, lakes, woods, healing springs and unique climate of the Chelyabinsk region with many lakes and over three thousand water reservoirs with the purest water are located in the region.

Who is on when

Ashley McKenzie is fighting on Monday

Colin Oates is up on Tuesday

Sally Conway steps onto the tatami on Friday 

Natalie Powell brings the contest to a close on Saturday.

Words by Donna Richardson. Most photos by Mike Varey, Elite Pix.