By Ben Lovell-Smith | Sport Editor
Welsh Judoka, Natalie Powell is a humble character. Competing within the women’s 78kg category she won commonwealth Gold at Glasgow in 2014 and finished 7th at the Rio Olympics 2 years later. In 2018 she won the Grand Slam in Dusseldorf and Grand Prix Antalya and has racked up a total of more than 30 World Cup medals over an outstanding judo career. It is therefore no surprise that Powell has been selected to represent Great Britain at the upcoming European Championships.
Asked what selection meant to her, her response revealed more relief than excitement. “I’m just really happy to be selected. Within the current climate, and after Britain decided not to send a team to the first competition on the judo tour, to be selected for the Europeans is a really massive step forward”.
A Cardiff University alumni, her success can be an inspiration for anyone at Cardiff. Alongside her athletic honours is a biomedical science degree, but there is a knowing giggle when this is brought to light. “I enjoyed the first year, maybe two years but I then realised I had no interest in biomedical science!”
Despite losing interest, after six years of studying alongside her training, she managed to complete her degree. Such commitment to get the job done is a theme that runs through her career.
Coping with coronavirus
Indeed, this year Powell has been forced to invoke the same fighting spirit, as the coronavirus pandemic wreaked havoc on the tour calendar. The Europeans will be Powell’s first competition since the Grand Prix event in Tel Aviv at the end of January.
Despite the obstacles that the pandemic has posed for athletes, Powell feels she is in the best shape possible to take on the challenge. “I feel I’ve made the most of my situation, I’ve made massive gains in strength and conditioning and technical improvements.” The pandemic really came at the worst time for Powell, she won in Tel Aviv beating two girls she hadn’t beaten before, and admits she felt in the best shape of her life at that point.
Thanks to the work of Welsh Judo and Powell’s coach Darran Warner, Powell has trained all the way through the lockdown, ensuring that
she is able to continue that form with the Tokyo Olympics around the corner. “From a British perspective I have been really lucky, Welsh Judo and my coach have been ahead of the game all the time, always looking at how we are going to do training.”
Though the story is not as romantic as it may sound. To ensure she could continue to spar throughout the lockdown, Powell isolated with her partner in an AirBnB close to the Dragons Judo Academy in Cardiff. She represents a determination and dedication that is required to
compete at the highest level.
Her dedication should pay off when it comes to the Europeans, “In terms of the rest of the world, we’ll definitely be ahead of some of them”. However, the reality is that the circumstances will have benefited the bigger countries. Such as France and Russia who have more sparring partners as well as more high level judokas. This gives them a huge advantage as judo requires people to train with. “If you’re French, you’ve already got maybe 20 girls in your weight to train with, it puts you at an advantage”. The pandemic has created a backlog of competitions.
Out on a high?
For the first time, the World Championships will take place in the same year as the Olympics, meaning that the upcoming year could be a defining one for Powell, who intimated that 2021 could be her last in Judo. “I will be prioritising the Olympics for sure, there’s a chance I will finish my career afterwards so to have a World Championship as well when I’m in the best shape of my life is exciting”.
The journey begins with the European Championships which start on the weekend of the 19th November. The Europeans hold a higher standing than masters and Grand Slam in terms of qualification for the Olympics, so this tournament is vital for those who hold the Olympic dream. Though for the moment she is just concentrating on enjoying the opportunity to compete. “We really did not think we’d be competing before the end of the year, so I’m just happy to be able to compete again”.
Powell seems to be in a great place right now, her optimistic and humble personality combines with a steely determination and grit. Now hitting the twilight of her career, Olympic glory is the dream for Powell and the stars seem to be aligning in front of her.