Norfolk boxing clubs look forward to women’s boxing events at London 2012
11:20 26 March 2012
For women, the 2012 Olympic Games in London will represent a monumental change and will make Olympic history.
Kate’s boxing experience
Walking into the old warehouse which is home to the Norwich City Amateur Boxing Club, you could barely miss the smell of the place and with a group of men looking in my direction, I suddenly remembered how small I look.
But everyone made me feel welcome and I was soon in my element when I got to do a circuit of exercises including jumping jacks to warm up.
My coach for the session was Glen Saffer, who runs the newly-formed club, and after my warm up – which saw me joined by former Commonwealth and British champion Sam Sexton – talked me through the footwork and the punches.
Once I had mastered the basics, it was then time to put on a smelly and sweaty pair of gloves and head into the boxing ring. Hitting the pads, Glen got me moving around the ring, jabbing, crossing, doing uppercuts and hooks, ducking and blocking. He then got me to do 30-second blasts of quick and fast punches before I moved onto the punch bag – I was definitely sweating by now.
Glen kept me hydrated by squirting water into my mouth – it’s hard to drink with boxing gloves on – and onto the back of my neck.
The hour-long session finished off with some step-ups, ladder drills, skipping and sit-ups before a cool down and stretch.
It was awesome fun albeit hard work. Although the initial step into the gym was a little daunting, that was soon forgotten once you got going. And as someone who likes to train hard and push their body to the limit, I absolutely loved it.
It will be the first time, except for a demonstration event in 1904, that women’s boxing will join the Olympics programme.
Up until this year, it was still the only amateur sport in the Olympic Games in which women were not represented.
It is now hoped the increased profile of the sport will encourage more women to box.
Glen Saffer, from Norwich Amateur Boxing Club, said: “Women’s boxing is a great thing and if a woman wants to box, then she should go for it. So many people in this country are male chauvinists and think ‘why would I want to watch women’s boxing?’ but I’ve refereed a women’s bout before and those girls had the best box of the night.
“Women learn their skills and hone their footwork and defences; they are just as able as any of the men.”
Women’s boxing was banned in most nations, including the UK, for most of the 20th century. A major breakthrough came in Britain in 1996 when the Amateur Boxing Association of England decided to lift the 116-year ban.
New rules for women’s boxing were formed by the International Amateur Boxing Association at the end of the 20th century with the approval for the first European Cup for Women in 1999 and the first World Championship 2001. Since then, the sport’s popularity has increased hugely, leading to the introduction of the Women’s World and European Championships biannually with 130 nations registering competitive female boxers.
British female boxers have already had great success, with England’s national team having four women in the 2008 top 10 world rankings and winning a silver medal at the World Championships. Scotland also won its first bronze medal at the EU Championships in 2008 and Wales have won a bronze medal at both the European Youth and Junior Championships.
At this year’s Games, women will be boxing in three weights: flyweight (48-51kg), lightweight (57-60kg) and middleweight (69-75kg).
The men’s competition, meanwhile, will feature 10 weight categories, from light flyweight (46-49kg) to super heavyweight (over 91kg).
It is hoped that women will be able to fight in more weights in future Olympic Games. Mr Saffer said: “I’m hoping that in 2016 they will open it up to every weight for women. We’ve got girls who are 70kg and 90kg who are good athletes but can’t box at the Olympics because their event isn’t included. I’m hoping women’s boxing will be a great success in London.”
Already at Norwich City ABC, which was formed this year by the coaches at the former Kingfisher ABC in Norwich, there are nine females, aged between 12 and 21. The club itself has 60 members with youngsters starting from as young as nine or 10.
Mr Saffer, who runs hour-long sessions for beginners on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 6.30pm, said: “Walking into this gym is the hardest thing anyone can do. It can be frightening but it’s a frightening world out there. When the kids come into the gym, it gives them something to do and there’s no need for them to stand on street corners. They learn respect, discipline, control and it’s great for fitness, weight loss and it’s a great sport.”
Norfolk also has its own rising women’s boxing star, young Emma Dolan from Hockering, near Dereham.
The 13-year-old started boxing when she was just 10 and has already won competitive bouts at home and abroad. The Dereham Neatherd High School pupil won a gold medal in the Pirrka Tournament in Finland last May, a gold in the National Schoolgirl Championships last June and she has just returned from Sweden where she won gold in the Golden Girl Boxcup.
Her mum Christine Walker said: “We took Emma’s younger brother Rhys at first and she asked if she could have a go. I said she could and it turned out that she was very good it.”
Emma, who was carded when she was 12, trains with Attleborough Amateur Boxing Club and in the run-up to a competition she will run three times a week and train five times a week.
It is hoped that next year she will be selected to join the GB development squad in Sheffield.
“It was difficult for me at first, you think that’s my ‘baby girl’ and I didn’t come from a boxing background while some of the girls she has boxed have come from very enthusiastic families,” said Mrs Walker.
“You have to put your trust in the coaches. They wouldn’t put her into a fight if they didn’t think she would be okay. They are so well protected, all the girls wear protective chest plates, groin guards, head guards and the worst she’s come home with is a graze on her hand. I’ve got friends whose children play football or rugby and they come home with broken this, that and the other.
“You can’t hold her back if she is good at it and has got the chance to go to the Olympics.”
Emma, her coaches and her family have strong hopes that she will make it to the 2020 Olympic Games. Meanwhile, the family plan to stay glued to the television watching the likes of Nicola Adams and Natasha Jonas in action this summer.
Mrs Walker said: “Hopefully the Olympics will bring more girls into the sport. And it’s nice for Emma to go into a new field of sport where she can be a trailblazer.”
Emma, who is preparing for next month’s rematch against Mellissa Hall who beat her by one point in the second National finals of 2011, said: “I’m very excited about women’s boxing in the Olympics. I know a couple of the girls and they are nice girls. It will be really good and it’s a big step for women’s boxing.”