Glasgow 2014: Ashley McKenzie on judo, Big Brother and Pokemon

Ashley McKenzie
Ashley McKenzie says he owes everything to judo
Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games
Competition dates: 24 July - 3 August. Coverage: Live on BBC TV, HD, BBC Radio 5 live, BBC Radio Scotland, Red Button, Connected TVs, online, tablets and mobiles

It all started with a fight over a Pokemon card.

Ashley McKenzie, who hopes to win judo gold for England at the Commonwealth Games on Thursday, was widely considered to be a disruptive and unruly child.

"I gave this lad an amazing card and he didn't give me no cards back, so I went to hit him.

"But he just threw me and I was like, 'where did this come from?'"

Some swift research revealed his opponent's secret weapon - a judo move - and following a visit to his nearest club, the 11-year-old McKenzie was instantly hooked.

Gone in 250 seconds...
McKenzie became the first Team GB athlete to be eliminated from the London 2012 Olympics when, after only four minutes and 10 seconds, he lost his first-round bout at the ExCel Arena

Now 24, the Londoner admits: "Judo is like my missus. If I hadn't found it, I can honestly say I'd either be in prison or I'd be in a bad place right now.

"Not because I'd want to be, but because that's the only way I'd probably know."

It's fair to say that McKenzie, from Willesden in the north-west of the capital, has come a long way.

Born with a heart defect for which he needed surgery, he was also fitted with hearing aids, and was later discovered to have been living with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

"It was quite hard growing up," he said of his pre-judo self. "I was going through a right rough patch and my mum couldn't cope with me.

"I moved around lots of schools, and when I came home I couldn't really concentrate on my homework. I couldn't do it. I felt I was no good at nothing.

Ashley McKenzie
Ashley McKenzie finished fifth in the 2012 celebrity edition of Big Brother

"But then I started judo. I was bringing home gold medals, my mum was laughing, and my family life was getting better."

McKenzie, who represented Great Britain in the -60kg category at the 2012 London Olympics and has won European Championship and World Cup medals, is now targeting glory in Glasgow as judo makes its return to the Commonwealth Games programme after a 12-year absence.

"I ain't settling for anything other than gold," he insists. "There's no other medal I want.

"Things are going really, really good for me right now. This has come at the right time. It should be my day."

McKenzie's love for his sport is obvious in conversation, not least because of the focus it has given him.

"My mum and my family are proud of me, I have a close group of friends now, and I started travelling to compete in different countries. I never thought I'd see outside of London!"

Rigorous training, he believes, has helped him deal with his ADHD, if only because sessions leave him "proper tired, game over!" and with little energy left to get himself into the sort of trouble that saw him spend time in a young offenders institution.

There have still been hiccups along the way, and McKenzie has served several bans from the sport for lapses of misbehaviour.

One of those incidents resulted in a large gash to his hand after he smashed a glass panel in a fit of temper.

The scar he points out now reminds him of why he's trying to change, although he does concede his 'Bad Boy Olympian' moniker is "quite cool".

It's that nickname which also attracted the producers of Celebrity Big Brother to come calling after London 2012. He describes that experience as "crazy, like getting told off by your mum 24/7".

"I'm quite loud and I'm quite flamboyant. If people like me they like me; if they don't, they don't," he explains.

Men's judo -60kg schedule - Thurs 24 July
1028 BSTPreliminary round of 32 begins
1152 BSTQuarter-finals
1302 BSTSemi-finals
1821 BSTBronze medal contests
1835 BSTGold medal contest

"I went into the Big Brother house as an Olympian and within two days I was smoking. I needed something to do and I have quite an addictive personality. I don't smoke no more, though.

"I'm slowly changing people's minds. They now understand why I sometimes react the way I do."

But there is something incredibly likeable about McKenzie. He's an open book and he appraises himself with honesty.

It's also clear to see his England team-mates enjoy having his extrovert personality around too.

And what became of the Pokemon card trade? McKenzie found his former nemesis at the local judo club. They became mates. Unsurprisingly, he got his card back.

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