Anthony Joshua dares to dream of Olympic boxing success
In the latest part of our #olympicthursday series on leading British Olympic hopes in the build-up to the Games, BBC Sport's Ben Dirs profiles boxer Anthony Joshua.
Anthony Joshua comes over all embarrassed when I ask him how he feels as he stands atop the podium in his dreams. Gold medal around his neck. God Save the Queen tugging at the heart strings. Millions watching on TV. Nowhere to hide. What Joshua describes as "all that fulfilment and joy" hung out for all to see.
"Imagine if I start crying," says Joshua. "A big super-heavyweight like me? How would you deal with it, achieving what you set out to achieve?"
Joshua points up at a poster of "The Greatest", grinning his way through the Star-Spangled Banner in Rome in 1960. "Muhammad Ali didn't cry," says Joshua. "But I might keep the shades on, just in case..."
An athlete's stock answer when asked if they dream of Olympic glory is "not if I can help it; one thing at a time; so much more work to put in".
“It's about applying yourself and finding what you're gifted at. Instead of being locked in a cage, try something new”
There are reasons why Joshua thinks differently. That grin he cannot erase from his face, it is a grin that says "is this for real?" Perhaps that is why it feels less dangerous to dream of greater things. Joshua has team-mates who were eyeing Olympic glory when he was still lounging around in bed until noon. So much more time to dream, so much more to lose.
Joshua, 22, did not even know boxing was an Olympic sport until he was 18, when his cousin dragged him to his gym in Finchley, north London, and opened his eyes to a whole new dawn.
"At school I just didn't apply myself, I wasn't interested," says Joshua, a talented schoolboy footballer and athlete who ran 100m in 11 seconds at the age of 15. He also dabbled in rugby, the Jonah Lomu that England never had.
"There were about 50 of us kids I used to hang around with and we all had this energy, this spark inside us. But not everyone's lucky enough to walk into a boxing gym and get that opportunity.
"So instead of pressure I feel grateful to be in the position I'm in. Instead of 'gosh, I'm here, what am I gonna do?', I'm just glad to be here. Because I have that experience of not being a boxer - sleeping in, not being the healthiest guy - that gives me the balance, makes me appreciate what I've got now."
When I suggest that for every Anthony Joshua there are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of British kids - not just potential Olympic boxers, but rowers, cyclists and just about everything in between - whose athletic potential goes unfulfilled, the man himself points out the limits of my imagination.
"It's about applying yourself and finding what you're gifted at," he says. "But not just in sport. So instead of lying in all day, set your alarm for eight o'clock, take yourself down the library. Educating yourself is important and opens your mind to other things. Instead of being locked in a cage, try something new."
Having escaped his "cage", Joshua soon had his epiphanal moment, the one most of us never experience, that moment that told him not only was he pretty good at his chosen sport, but he might even be able to win medals in it.
- Born: 15 October 1989
- Lives: Finchley, north London
- Club: Finchley ABC
- First bout: 2008
- Honours: 2009 ABAE senior novice champion; 2010 and 2011 ABAE elite national champion; 2011 World Championship silver; 2011 Boxing Writers' Amateur Boxer of the Year; qualified for 2012 Olympics
"I stopped my first two opponents in the first round and thought 'I'm quite handy at this'," says Joshua. "In the third bout I got beaten, and that's when I thought 'hang on a minute, think like that and I'm gonna get beat'."
Within two years Joshua was an ABAE senior champion and in the GB set-up. In 2011 he defended his ABAE title and reached the quarter-finals of the European Championship, before swooping into the Worlds in Baku last October where the unheralded outsider, all 6ft 6in and 17st of him, fought his way to a silver medal and thus ensured qualification for London 2012.
Joshua credits GB head coach Rob McCracken - "an amazing man, he got me to where I am now and he's improving me every time I walk into the gym" - for his rapid rise through the amateur ranks.
But while he balks at the suggestion he is a "mummy's boy", it is his family that keeps him grounded. A wiser kid than most, Joshua spent last weekend trying to impress upon his niece the importance of saving money, while most of his own money he gives to his mum. What did I tell you...?
"I'm a boxer, I can't be no mummy's boy!" says Joshua. "But you've got to look after your mum, I've got a lot of love for my mum. And regardless of what happens, my family will never turn their back on me.
"If your parents stick by you and make you understand how important certain things are, as you get older you'll look back and think 'you know what, I'm thankful for my mum and my dad sticking by me.'"
After our chat, Joshua's media man informs him Men's Health wants him for an interview. And the Sun. And the Guardian. The list goes on. And there's that grin again - "is this for real?" - although he wants us to know all this extra attention does not scare him at all.
"Everyone loves a bit of attention, don't they?" he says. "I wasn't in it to be an Olympian but as opportunities present themselves, I'm just trying to snatch at each one. And I know I can be an Olympic champion, whether that's in 2012 or 2016. I don't think there's any limit, it's all about me."
Joshua cites Evander Holyfield and Lennox Lewis among his heroes. Olympic medallists both, neither of them blubbed on the podium. Silly really: everyone loves a big man blubbing on a podium. And what's more likely to add a few quid to your first pro cheque? Let "all that joy and fulfilment" hang out, Josh. And leave the shades at home.