British Judo: Natalie Powell 'in best place' after swapping Walsall for Wales

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Natalie Powell: 'Why I left the British Judo programme'

Natalie Powell says she is "technically the best" she has been after leaving British Judo's World Class Performance Programme to return to Wales.

The former world number one is training with her former coach Darren Warner in Cardiff with her sights firmly set on Olympic gold in Tokyo this summer.

Powell, 29, had become the first female British judoka to top the world rankings in 2017.

But admits she needed a change after dropping to ninth two years later.

"I felt like over the last year or so my judo performances had kind of plateaued and like I wasn't really improving any more," Powell told BBC Sport Wales.

"It's been difficult because I was in Walsall [British Judo's base] which wasn't a place I wanted to live. I didn't have my friends and family around me. On the mat I didn't feel I was getting the input I needed to improve.

"As soon as I came back here, I just feel like I'm getting stronger and fitter. My competition performances are improving. Everything is just going in the right direction.

"Even though I've had to take a massive cut in funding, I just feel it's going to pay dividends in the long run."

Powell will continue to be supported by British Judo via the World 16 Programme which funds certain competitions and training camps.

She says she and British Judo "really tried to make it work" but feels much more at home in Cardiff.

"I've just got a bespoke team around me," she said. "I've got my physiologist, my psychologist, my strength and conditioning, my coach - they all just work so well together. Every session is programmed to make me better.

"In Walsall there are 25 to 30 athletes and the sessions are more general. They're trying to get everybody better at the same time.

"[In Wales] it's just far more tailored and it gets those last little bits out of you. And in a really positive environment. That's the big thing."

British Judo maintains it offers comprehensive coaching and sports science to all of its full time athletes - in addition to one of the strongest women's training groups in Europe.

But it fully supports Powell's decision to work with her old coach and be closer to family and friends.

Despite leaving the centralised programme, the Welsh judoka is still just as focused on competing for Great Britain at this summer's Olympic Games.

"I really do believe I can win it [Olympic gold] if I perform my best. Everybody around me is doing the best job and if I can't win it with this team, there's no chance really," she said.

"If I got a medal, I'd also be really pleased - but I'm going there to win it. It's my last shot really."

Powell will compete for the first time in 2020 at the Tel Aviv Grand Prix, which runs from Thursday, 23 to Saturday, 25 January.