Sports Gazette

by sports journalism students at St Mary's University, London

Last Chance Saloon: Olympic Hopeful Joe Kellaway

Posted on 15 March 2021 by Joe Giovanelli

Paris 2024 and Los Angeles 2028 voted against hosting karate during their games, putting increased pressure on aspiring karate athletes. For many, this will be their only shot at competing at the Olympic games, and Kellaway is one of them. The postponed 2020 Tokyo Olympics will be his one and only shot at achieving his Olympic dream.

The life of a fighter is difficult, hard knocks and personal sacrifice. An athlete willing to leave everything they have on the mat is only a step toward the success they dream of. Team GB Olympic Karate hopeful, Joe Kellaway knows all too well what this feels like. Following the Gazette’s interview with Team GB Karate athlete, Amy Connell, I wanted to talk to Joe and discuss his experiences.

Karate Kid Kellaway

Kellaway has been involved in sports all his life, starting Karate training at six years old after being inspired by the Power Rangers on TV, practising to sweep and kick just like his heroes.

A victorious Joe Kellaway Credit: Thomas Kaserer

“I started quite late, I was 9 when I began fighting, a lot of kids start at 7 so they already had 2 years more experience than me, so I’ve always played catchup and I’ve also had to find my training, travel a lot to get to sessions and good classes and find that extra training I needed.

“From the age of getting my first cap for the England junior team for the world championships, [Karate] kind of got quite serious since then and that was 2011.

Kellaway spoke about the importance of failure at an early age and how most of the best fighters didn’t experience their best until they became senior fighters.

“There is always someone out there working twice as hard and they will catch up, and that was me, I caught up.”

With numerous national titles to his name, including the re-introduced 10k Karate clash, a charity karate event, in 2017 after a decade hiatus.

“All of a sudden we got a call telling us 10k is coming back and you’ll be in it. I wasn’t expecting to win I wanted to just go and enjoy it, but then as I got through the first round. I was untouchable.

“In the semi-final I fought my teammate/idol Jordan Thomas, who had just come back from winning a world championship. I never thought it was going to go that way, I thought it would be closer but on that day I was just in a different zone.”

His first medal was at the 2019 European Karate Championships in Spain, leading to his selection for the Team GB squad at the Minsk 2019 European Games.

“I will always remember my first European bronze medal as an under 21, it was a junior event but it took me 5-6 years just to get that one medal.

“From the age of 14 I went to every single European and world championship but didn’t win a single medal. My last ever under 21 event I finally managed to get a medal so that was probably my most emotional moment.”

Last chance saloon

Kellaway discusses that the postponed games provide a silver lining for younger athletes, giving them more time to recover from injuries but for older fighters, it’s another year of pounding their bodies, hoping for their last chance.

“It’s put a lot more pressure on me but also the senior athletes too, the ones that want to retire, this is their last shot. This is probably my only shot too if you think about it. If it takes another 12 years, I’ll be in my 30s and past my athletic peak.

“I’ve got a shot definitely, more than anyone, on the day I’ve proved I can beat these top fighters who are ahead of me in rankings because I’ve done it, I’ve just got to get that perfect day and the sky is the limit when that day comes”.

However, with chances of Karate returning looking slim, Kellaway has had to think about his options for the future, the possibility of getting involved in other combat sports, but also ventures outside of sport.

“I just want to focus on this important year and get this out the way, but I mean I love boxing and MMA, boxing is one my big passions at the minute but people always remind me of my kicking ability so I can’t forget that.

“While I’m waiting to return to training, I’m trying to organise a fashion brand and martial arts brand so I’m a bit of an entrepreneur in that sense, I want to be successful not just in sport but my whole life.”

Finding a combat gym that is best for you is hard, finding one for a niche sport is even harder. Paul Newby is Kellaway’s mentor and Karate coach for Team GB, having won two bronze medals and a gold medal at the Karate World championships and has been Kellaway’s coach since he was 16 years old.

“Karate gyms are hard to find in the UK, it’s really trial and error. You have to find someone who works for you, but when I got to 16, we got into contact with Paul Newby for Team GB. I’ve had to really travel far to find someone who knows me, knows how to push me, when to pull me back, Paul knows me and we have a good relationship outside of the gym too which is great. It’s a great partnership.”

“I’d love to become a coach and follow that process, I love my current coach now for team GB, I look up to him and hope to be as deeply involved in the sport as he is.”

Looking to the future

With the recent news that the Japanese government have decided to stage the games without any overseas spectators due to increasing concerns by the Japanese public, Kellaway is still focused on his ultimate goal, even without any home support.

“It’ll be really sad if I go to the Olympics and don’t have my parents there to watch me” Kellaway says.

“But if I did make it into the team, I can’t even describe with words. I think that’s every athletes dream, especially for an amateur. Just to say you’ve been there, not many people in the world can say that. Especially in my sport as well as it is the first time and maybe the only time.

“But I know that I need to focus on the main goal, and that’s to get a gold medal around my neck”.