Camberley Judo Club arrived at the Commonwealth Games knowing it would be a special event. Fielding 3 of the 7 male England representatives guided by Camberley’s head coach Luke Preston who was one of the England Judo Team coaches, it was going to be action packed few days! What an understatement that turned out to be!! Ashley McKenzie -60kg, Danny Williams -73kg and Owen Livesey -81kg all gave inspiring performances, show-casing their skill, determination and fighting spirit.
Expectations were high and the pressure was on for the CJC fighters from day one. Ranked 17th in the world, Ashley McKenzie the 2013 European bronze medallist was favourite to win the title in the -60kg and he did not disappoint.
Ashley’s route to the final saw him come up against the experience of Scotland’s John Buchanan, former World bronze medallist, who was making his return to the sport at the age of 38. Buchanan himself trained full time at Camberley Judo Club for 13 years. McKenzie threw Buchanan for an early small score and controlled the contest well to hold out for the remainder of the five minutes. He then went on to convincingly beat Neuso Sigauque of Mozambique with a big throw for maximum points. The final put him up against Navjot Chana of India, a four-time national champion and the Indian took the lead with a 7 point throw, however McKenzie quickly fought back with a 7 point throw of his own and the three penalty points picked up by his opponent separated the pair at the end in the Englishman’s favour earning Mckenzie the first Gold medal for England and Camberley Judo Club.
Talking about what it means to be Commonwealth Champion Ashley McKenzie said: “I’m pleased to be here and would like to thank the people who have got me here: My coach Luke Preston and all the sponsors at Camberley Judo Club, we couldn’t do what we do without their support. Concentration is one of the things I struggle with but judo has helped me. Now the focus is on Rio and I will be at the World Championships in Chelyabinsk in a couple of weeks.”
A late replacement, Danny Williams was called up just days before the games due to an injury resulting in withdrawal of another athlete. Williams faced a tough first contest against young Welshman Connor Ireland but overcame him by two small scores. He then came from being behind a score against three-time Oceania champion Arnie Dickens, to winning with a 7 point score. On a roll and inspired by team mate Ashley’s success Danny went on to beat another home country fighter Northern Ireland’s Eoin Fleming by maximum score with an armlock. His semi final saw him edge out Australian champion Jake Bensted on a single penalty. The final saw him face Kiwi Adrian Leat in a brutal contest, but the English judoka came out on top, scoring an early 7 point score and hanging on for the win and the second gold for CJC.
Danny Williams reflected on the day saying “That was incredible. The medal at the end of the day was just a bonus. It has been a very, very hard six days.”
“The majority of the people here have been preparing for months and I had six days to prepare but I could have done it in a day if I had to.
“To do it in front of my family and friends is amazing, they are all here. The crowd and the village is incredible all the volunteers are so helpful. I would like to say thank you to everyone in Shrewsbury and Camberley. I’m looking forward to getting back to Camberley to share my experience with everyone that has been supporting me.”
Also on day 2 was Owen Livesey -81kg, he started his campaign by beating John Muthee Kirimi of Kenya, throwing him with a 7 point score and transitioning to a hold-down for the win. Livesey also beat Zambian Boas Munyonga, also by maximum score progressing to the semi final. Here Owen beat Canadian opponent Jonah Burt, throwing him for maximum score win inside 30 seconds. It was an all-England final where Camberley’s Owen Livesey faced Tom Reed a team mate and formidable opponent. It was a closely fought battle and with no scores on the board, a single penalty to Reed was all that separated them after five minutes of fighting. Gold for Owen Livesey made it 3 golds for Camberley and a 100% success rate!
On winning gold Livesey commented: “I am very happy and will be celebrating winning a Commonwealth gold tonight. When I moved to Camberley the Olympics was the only thing I have wanted to do. Hopefully, now I have the confidence, I will do it. I will keep training hard and hopefully qualify.
“Normal events we don’t get much attention but fighting here is the most that I have had in my life. All my family are here, my mum, my dad, my sisters, all my coaches from my old club S.K.K.. I’ve never fought anywhere with atmosphere like this. Now I have witnessed it with the crowd behind me it is just fantastic.”
“I’d like to thank everyone who has supported me at Camberley, with no funding I rely on sponsors at the club to help me, Without them I wouldn’t even have made it in to the team, now I’m stood her with a gold medal!.”
Coach Luke Preston said “I am extremely proud of the 3 athletes and the England judo team in general. For Camberley to be home to 3 Commonwealth Games gold medallists is a fantastic achievement. It is great for the club, the whole town and borough. We now need continued support to help qualify our athletes for Rio 2016. At the moment we only have one funded athlete at the club so sponsorships is vital if we want continued Commonwealth, European, World and Olympic success.”