Getting busted for drugs taught me how much I want that Olympic gold, says British title hope Joshua
21:33 GMT, 28 April 2012
Anthony Joshua admits that his dream of putting his name alongside those of some of the most famous heavyweight boxers of all time by winning an Olympic gold medal this summer could have been destroyed by his conviction last year for supplying cannabis.
The 22-year-old Londoner’s goal is to be standing on the medals podium on August 12, the final day of the London Games, with a gold medal around his neck as the new Olympic super-heavyweight champion.
In doing so, he would join an illustrious list of Olympic gold medal boxers that includes Muhammad Ali, who won the light-heavyweight title in 1960 as Cassius Clay, heavyweights Joe Frazier and George Foreman, and super-heavyweights Lennox Lewis and Wladimir Klitschko, all of whom went on to find fame and fortune in the professional game.
Chilled: Anthony Joshua takes a break from training with the Olympic squad last week
But Joshua could have thrown it all away when, in March last year, he was arrested for possessing cannabis with intent to supply the drug. He was suspended from Britain’s boxing squad and, after pleading guilty at crown court, was sentenced to a 12-month community order and 100 hours’ unpaid work.
He says now that the reaction to his shame of family, friends and those within his sport convinced him to change his ways.
‘I could have seen it as a badge of honour,’ he said last week. ‘I could have taken the rap, seen it as a slap on the wrist and done it again. But I didn’t. It wasn’t so much the actual charge that had the effect. It was all the grief afterwards, from my friends, from my family — especially my mum — and from boxing.
‘I was just like a lot of young lads. It was all about how I looked, my clothes, clubbing, girls. I wasn’t with the best group of people.
Putting the practice in: Joshua is aiming for gold in London
‘The arrest changed a lot. It forced me to grow up and to respect my responsibilities.
I’m not happy that I did what I did and there’s no way that kind of thing will ever happen again, but in a way I’m glad it did because it woke me up.
‘I go running on Saturday nights now, not clubbing. I understand that if I’m to fulfil my potential then it’s all about hard work. It took me a while to realise this, but since last March I’ve never looked back. And you know what I’m so much happier as a person, too.’
Now restored to Britain’s highly regarded Olympic boxing team, Joshua, 6ft 6in and nearly 17st, trains with the squad three days a week at the English Institute of Sport in Sheffield before completing his week’s work back home in Finchley.
He has received plenty of help and advice from the likes of Lennox Lewis and super-middleweight Carl Froch, who hopes to become a three-time world title holder when he challenges IBF champion Lucien Bute in Nottingham on May 26.
No 1: Joshua at the ABA Elite Championship Finals at York Hall
‘Lennox has told me to make the most of this opportunity,’ said Joshua. ‘He explained how when he lost in the quarter-finals in the 1984 Olympics it meant he stayed an amateur for another four years so he could win gold in Seoul.
‘I’m lucky to have this one-off chance in London and I’m doing everything in my power to seize it.’
His potential for the Olympics and beyond has not gone unnoticed by the fight game. Barry McGuigan, the former world featherweight champion who is now a respected TV pundit, said: ‘I’m convinced he will win Olympic gold and within five years enjoy world domination in the professional heavyweight scene.’
Joshua admits that his own expectations are high. ‘I’m aiming to do something amazing at the Games,’ he said. ‘But it’s good to hear someone like Barry say these things about me.
‘I’m a student of heavyweight boxing. I’ve watched so many videos of fights with all the greats and so many boxing documentaries.
Part of the team: Andrew Selby, Fred Evans, Anthony Joshua, Tom Stalker and Luke Campbell of Team GB during the Announcement of the first Boxers named for London 2012
‘For nearly all of the greats, winning an Olympic gold was a stepping stone to incredible careers as professionals. People keep asking me about turning professional. Well, let’s take one step at a time. For now, all my focus is given to winning gold in my home town.’
His progress has been swift. Last October, he went to the world amateur championships in Baku, Azerbaijan, seeded a lowly 46th. But he beat the 2008 Olympic champion, Italy’s Roberto Cammarelle, on his way to a final which he then lost by a single point to local fighter Megomedrasul Medzhidov. The boxing world took note.
Ironically, Joshua admits that when he first took up boxing four years ago, he was barely aware that the Olympics were coming to town. He had left school at 18 and was drifting until a cousin persuaded him to join him at a boxing gym.
‘From the first punch, I was hooked,’ he said. ‘If I’m honest, I barely knew that the Olympics were even coming to London. But from that first day there’s never been a day when I haven’t been in a gym.
‘I didn’t think I’d be even fighting at the Olympics when I started in 2008, let alone winning gold, but now it’s a distinct possibility. Since winning silver at the worlds last October, I’ve improved technically, physically and mentally.’
Next week he will hone his skills in a tournament in Lithuania, replacing training with competitive fights, before making final preparations for his quest to follow in the footsteps of Ali and Frazier, Lewis and Klitschko.
‘August 12, the final day of the Olympics,’ he said. ‘Make sure you’re there. Last day and top of the bill.’
It may not be the last time that Anthony Joshua is top of the bill, either.