Nostalgic judo star Powell hoping blast from Sydney 2000 past can haul her to glory in Tokyo

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Powell captured World Championship bronze in Hungary in 2017
Powell captured World Championship bronze in Hungary in 2017

Denise Lewis' storied Sydney 2000 heptathlon gold medal first fuelled Natalie Powell’s fervent Olympic fires, writes Will Jennings.

And the Welsh ace reckons she’s got a cracking shot of following in her footsteps and similarly standing tall on the Tokyo podium this summer.

Powell, from Merthyr Tydfil, was officially selected for her second Olympic Games in a six-strong Team GB judo squad this week.

The -78kg star finished seventh on her Olympic debut in Rio five years ago but a string of World Championship, European Championship and Grand Slam medals since have moulded her into a genuine contender in Japan.

Powell’s first Olympic memories were watching Lewis capture British hearts in Sydney – and she insists she’s hellbent on emulating her exploits after defying the odds and scaling the Games heights.

The 31-year-old, who scooped bronze at the 2017 World Championships in Budapest, said: “I remember watching the Olympics when Denise Lewis won heptathlon gold.

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“I was always into every sport – and I really like the idea that in heptathlon, she was really good at everything. 

“That’s probably my earliest Olympic memory. But in terms of actually thinking I could actually get there, that was a lot later. 

“In judo, I really didn’t think I had a chance for a log long time. It wasn’t until 21 or 22 before the London Games that I thought there was actually a shot – it was quite late until I realised it was actually a genuine possibility.

“If I deliver what I’m capable of, get my head in the right frame of mind, bring my intensity and get my head in the right place, and I can definitely contend for a medal.”

Powell has embarked on an inexorable rise since Rio as she’s racked up a raft of medals on the sport’s highest stage.

TOKYO 2020 - 'I KNOW WHAT I NEED TO ACHIEVE' - ADAM PEATY TARGETING MORE GOLD FOR TEAM GB
TOKYO 2020 - 'I KNOW WHAT I NEED TO ACHIEVE' - ADAM PEATY TARGETING MORE GOLD FOR TEAM GB

She soared onto the Hungarian podium at the 2017 World Championships, won three consecutive bronzes at the Europeans between 2016 and 2018 and – more recently – was crowned Grand Prix champion in Tel Aviv last year.

The -78kg scene is a fiercely competitive one but Powell, who also won the 2017 Grand Slam in Abu Dhabi, insists she’s firmly up for the heat of the battle at the Nippon Budokan this summer.

The Tokyo venue is martial arts’ spiritual home and Powell, whose Olympic exploits will be broadcast live on Eurosport and discovery+, added: “I’m looking to get on the podium and I want to get a medal. 

“I feel like on my best day I’m fully capable of that – I’ve just got to put myself in the best position, perform and my best and hopefully I’ll be on that podium.

“I’m going in ranked No.5 – and I would say that I’m in with a going in with a good shot. 

“If I perform at my best I’m capable of beating anyone – it’s just about stringing it together and doing it on the day.”

Stream every unmissable moment of Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 live on discovery+, The Streaming Home of the Olympics.

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