London: Last year, Anthony Joshua was staring at the grimmest of futures.
Standing in court, pleading guilty to drug dealing, the young boxer was at rock-bottom.
He looked destined for jail but a judge gave him a second chance and on Sunday he repaid his dues by winning Olympic gold for Britain.
The 22-year-old - roared on by 10,000 fans at the ExCel Arena — beat Italian Roberto Cammarelle in a closely fought contest for the prestigious super heavyweight title.
It was Team GB’s 29th gold and easily the most controversial.
Watford-born Joshua, the son of Nigerian parents, was arrested for possessing cannabis and intent to supply the drug in March last year.
He was suspended from Britain’s boxing squad and was sentenced to a 12-month community order and 100 hours’ unpaid work.
It was the shock and reaction to the shame of family, friends and those within his sport convinced him to change his ways, he admitted. “I could have seen it as a badge of honour,” he said earlier this year.
“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.
“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.”
An accomplished footballer and athlete — he can run the 100 metres in 11 seconds — Joshua only began boxing four years ago at a local club after a cousin Gbenga recommended the sport.
On Sunday an exhausted but delighted Joshua said: “There are no easy fights in these Olympics and I’ve pulled it out of the bag.”
Inspired by the crowd and extraordinary atmosphere, he continued: “Again and again and again they’ve come out. I was blessed.
“The hearts of all these people out here, around the nation. That medal represents my journey and the support from the team. It’s much more than just a gold medal, it’s a life experience and I’m just proud to have it round my neck.”
Joshua’s name will now be added to a list of former Olympic heavyweight and super heavyweight champions that includes Joe Frazier, George Foreman, Lennox Lewis and Wladimir Klitschko.
Both Audley Harrison, Britain’s last winner of an Olympics super heavyweight title in Sydney 12 years ago, and Lewis were in the crowd and embraced Joshua as he left the ring.
Nicknamed ‘Crocodile Dundee’ in the Olympic village because he is said to make friends with everyone, Joshua, who was watched by his father Jonathan and sister Janet, is now expected to be put under pressure to turn professional.
He refused to commit himself saying: “I want to gain more experience and just keep on pushing. I’ve had 43 bouts, 40 wins, that’s nothing. I just want to keep on pushing. As an amateur, I’m still an amateur for now.”
He is said to have already turned down a £50,000 offer to turn professional after the Olympics, wanting instead to secure the world amateur crown next year. Joshua lives in a two-bedroom flat in a council block in Golders Green, North London, close to the Finchley Amateur Boxing Club where he trains. On Sunday neighbours roared his name out across the estate from their living rooms while watching him fight to victory.
Friends said he would be in no rush to cash in on his success by turning professional.
One said: “He’s a lovely lad and has been training really hard. Anthony is also down to earth so won’t let this go to his head and suddenly think he’s a superstar. He’s only young so the sky’s the limit over time.”