Born in Durban, South Africa, Precious McKenzie suffered from ill-health during his childhood. An ambition to be a circus performer ended because of South Africa’s race laws and this led him to weight training and weightlifting. Although he was ranked the best weightlifter in his weight category in South Africa, he was barred from representing his country at the 1958 British Empire and Commonwealth Games that year. Because he was classified as “Coloured” under the apartheid regime he was also excluded from the South African team for the 1960 Rome Olympiad. In 1963, he was told he could be included in the South African team for the 1964 Olympics, provided he was segregated from the white members of the team.
He refused and left South Africa for Britain in 1964 with his wife and young family. British minister for sport, Denis Howell, fast-tracked his citizenship application to allow him to compete for England in the 1966 Commonwealth Games in Jamaica where he won Gold.