Two-time Olympian Ashley McKenzie is convinced he has proved once and for all that he has the ability to cut it with the world’s best after the judoka secured his second European medal.
The 28-year-old was flying high in Budapest five years ago and repeated the trick in Tel Aviv, Israel, once again packing a -60kg bronze medal into his luggage.
The 2014 Commonwealth champion still held a high seeding for the competition, entering the mat as third favourite.
He was faced with a tough battle to back up the prediction however, showing terrific determination to wrestle his way out of a hold down against Ukraine’s Artem Leysuk, winning the contest in the final few seconds.
“I’m really, really pleased with the bronze medal – to come here, being self-funded on this trip, and proving to people that I can still do it, I’m delighted,” said McKenzie, Olympian at London 2012 and Rio 2016. “I would have liked to have got to the final but there you go.
“Being a top seed means you’re expected to perform, it doesn’t mean there are more rubbish people under you, it’s just an expectation.
“For me it’s hard, coming and being self-funded and doing everything with myself, I’m more than happy with the result.
“Preparation was good, I did it in Camberley judo club with Luke Preston and all my peers – I’ve got strong players in there to fight me so things went well beforehand.
“I’ve got different sponsorships now and I’m just looking forward to going forward, the sponsors fund my tournaments so I’m enjoying it at the moment.”
McKenzie’s third-seed status came after a strong run of form since Rio 2016, notably a bronze medal at the Paris Grand Slam earlier this year.
That allowed him a bye into the second round where his greater experience proved too much for Netherlands’ Tornike Tsjakadoea, prevailing on golden score.
But a third shido foul in the quarter-final saw him forced into the repechage final, though a chance at the podium was far from ruled out, especially after throwing Csaba Szabo for ippon.
That took him into the bronze-medal contest which would prove one of the trickiest contests of the day against Leysuk – the man who had beaten Olympic champion Beslan Mudranov.
But McKenzie looked solid, throwing the Ukranian for waza-ari early on and keeping his composure, only for his opponent to level up in the late stages.
It looked as though he would take the win but McKenzie put in a superb escape to hold on, countering his opponent’s attack – earning a valiant podium prize for his efforts.
*The British Judo WCPP funds travel, accommodation and all expenses for GB Judo team selected athletes at all major championships including 2018 Senior European Judo Championships