Ashley McKenzie and Kelly Edwards bow out from Olympic judo dream


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The Independent Online

The clock in the ExCel Arena was coming up to 9.50am when Ashley McKenzie’s Olympics came to an end after just 4min10sec.

The 23-year-old Londoner had the dubious distinction of becoming the first Briton to bow out of the Games, literally so because in judo that is the traditional way to salute your opponent at the end both in victory and defeat.

Known as the “wild child” of judo following past bans from the sport because of misdemeanours which included drinking and brawling, the three-times British Open champion and double World Cup winner had the misfortune to find himself drawn against the  world number two at under 66kg, Hiroaki Hiroaka in the opening round. It was early enough in the morning for the Japanese to have him for breakfast.

McKenzie, whose colourful past - which included time in a young offenders’ institution - was the subject of a recent BBC TV documentary, had hopes of giving a lift to one of Britain’s under-achieving sports.

There has never been a British gold medal in the Olympics and none of any hue since Kate Howey’s silver in Sydney  12 years ago.

“I used to be the bad boy but now I’m the good boy,” McKenzie had said before the Games began. Unfortunately not quite  good enough to get to grips with one of the best mat finishers in the business.

He made an uncharacteristically passive start –for which he received a warning – before twice being thrown and ultimately suffering an ippon,which is judo-speak for ko, 50 seconds from the end of the scheduled five minute bout. In boxing terms he was beaten to the punch by an opponent who cleverly thwarted his attacks almost before they began.

“Obviousy I’m disappointed,”  he said.”But there’s no disgrace in losing to the world number two, especially as I never thought I would get to the Games in the first place. It has been a lot of hard work for a couple of years but I don’t consider itv wasted. I came here hoping to get a medal but this experience has given me the motivation to carry on to the nextb Olympics in Rio.”

Judo is is known as ‘the gentle way’ but there’s nothing gentle in throwing someone else’s weight around, getting half-strangled and dumped on the mat and having to come away with nothing more than a sore head hung low in disappointment. 

McKenzie is a charismatic young man who does not conform to the conventional image of a judoka, his lippy joshing  and showboating style more akin to the boxing ring. Yesterday he had to take it on the chin,but you suspect he won’t be counted out.

On an inauspicious day for British judo, his team-mate Kelly Edwards also had had the bad luck off the women’s draw.  She too faced a Japanese world number two in Tomoko Fukumi and the under 48kg 21-year-old from Shrewsbury was quick to follow McKenzie out of the tournament.

This  perplexing sport is  full of twists, turns, and contradictions In. It demands discipline and respect for the opposition. There is no room for remonstration or demonstration. You just black belt up and bow your and way out gracefully. Which is what the vanquished Brits did, their brief encounter with an Olympic dream over for another four years.