| DARTFORD, England, July 23
DARTFORD, England, July 23 Ashley McKenzie grins
broadly as he tells how a fight over a Pokemon card turned him
from a problematic youngster in trouble with the law to one of
Britain's best hopes for a judo medal at the London Olympics.
Thrown out of school, his life was changed when he was 11 by
a tussle on a street near his home in west London which broke
out when another boy tried to make off with his prized Pokemon
"This charizard was the best card. It was my life back
then," he recalled at the British judo team's training base in
Dartford to the east of London.
"I've gone to grab his shirt and next thing I knew I was
over his shoulder. I was a scrapper back in the day so I knew
this wasn't right.
"I went for him again and as I've gone for him he's thrown
me again. I was thinking 'No way, what's going on? How's he
throwing me? He's hurting me'."
Baffled, he went home and looked on the internet where he
discovered he had been overcome by a judo move. Keen to learn
more, he went along to a local club and found his erstwhile
attacker there, along with his Pokemon card.
"We spoke, we're friends, I started judo. Obviously I got my
Pokemon card back," he added with a laugh.
McKenzie, now a charming 23-year-old, is very open about his
past troubles, and proud of how he turned his life around.
He was regularly excluded from school and spent time in a
young offenders institution.
But, having got into judo, his talent was spotted and
success in junior competitions followed.
"I started winning more and more, and I thought my mum's
happy and my brother and my dad's happy for me winning these and
when I'm in school I'm always in trouble," he said.
"It was like a balance where I was doing something positive.
So I kind of focused all my energy on judo. From there my life
kind of shot up."
It was not all plain sailing as his penchant for trouble has
seen him earn a number of bans from the sport. But the medals
kept coming and he knuckled down when he realised he could get
to the Olympics.
"It sunk in my head, I could actually do this. This actually
could be my dream, my dream could come true to be someone in the
world," he said.
He is desperate to win a medal in London in front of his
friends and family but knows it will not be easy, especially
with Uzbekistan's Rishod Sobirov a huge favourite in his
"I've come from so low to so high in my life. I've done what
I had to do and this is the end spot," he said.
"I've completed the one big barrier that's getting out of
all the trouble, trying to go to the Games. Now the next step is
let's try and get a medal."
If he doesn't succeed this time, then he's even more
determined to prove himself at the Olympics in Brazil in 2016.
"At Rio I'll be looking for gold, and that is it. I want a
medal, I want to get a gold so bad it's unbelievable."
(Editing by Greg Stutchbury)