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Last Woman Standing star aims for Olympic boxing place

Last Woman Standing

By Nabil Hassan

In the past few months, Lesley Sackey has wrestled in Brazil, tried Kali fighting and bamboo rafting in the Philippines, raced water buffalo in Indonesia and run up a mountain in Mexico, but her biggest challenge is still ahead of her - qualifying for the 2012 Olympics.

The 27-year-old middleweight boxer might look innocent, but she is as hard as they come, as shown by her participation in BBC Three series, Last Women Standing - a new twist on the show that previously sent sportsmen to compete against the world's most remote tribes in their own rituals.

And having gone through all the show has to offer, Sackey is now set for her "biggest challenge yet."

"Competing for Britain at the Olympics will be tough, tougher then Last Women Standing, it's an ongoing process, a long journey and is more intense," Sackey told BBC Sport.

Lesley Sackey, Alex Alam, Anna Campbell, Natalie Smith and Joni Swanston
The five competitors of this year's Last Women Standing

Sackey is currently sweating on selection for London 2012. A 30 women training camp in October was reduced to 13 at Christmas. Three more training camps will follow in February and March before the squad is reduced to the nine that will compete at London's ExCel Arena in the Docklands in two-and-a-half-years' time.

Sackey is desperate to be one of the nine who will be among those to make history by becoming the first female boxers to compete at the Olympics. It is an incredible rise for someone who only took up the sport four years ago.

"Words fail me when I think of competing on my home turf," reveals Sackey.

"It couldn't be at a better place, my home city, or a better time for me. It's in the heart of boxing, the East End, and what better time to showcase female boxing in this country. You couldn't ask for more…to be making history is unbelievable."

Sackey fell into boxing accidently. Having wanted to get fit for a while, she was less then enamoured at the prospect of having to do it in a gym. That was when she was encouraged by a family friend to try boxing - she went along to the All Stars Gym in Harrow Road, West London and almost instantaneously caught "the buzz".

2012 boxing will be in London's East End

"I remember thinking to myself after the first few sessions 'god, who does this?'," she recalls.

"The level of the work and the intensity in those two hours was nuts. Then I just got the bug and it has gone from strength to strength."

Sackey's first fight was electrifying and even though the Dollis Hill resident was beaten it was to be an experience she will never forget, "I truly feel I learned more in defeat then I would have done in victory," she adds.

In the four years Sackey has been boxing she has won the ABA championship and the prestigious EU Tournament. She lists Britain's Carl Froch and American Floyd Mayweather Jr as her heroes and although she lacks the ring time of many of her rivals Sackey feels that her experiences on Last Women Standing will make her a better boxer.

"When you do something like this it tests you mentally, physically and emotionally," said Sackey, who studied music management at Buckinghamshire University.

"I pushed myself and that will make me better. I was taken way out of my comfort zone with these challenges and managed to succeed and do well. If anything, it's give me an extra bit of drive."

Last Woman Standing
The Woman prepare for Kali fighting in the Phillippines

Not that she needs drive. Sackey proved in the six weeks on Last Woman Standing that despite coming into sport late, she is a natural born competitor.

"I learnt a lot about myself," she admits.

"I surprised myself with how well I did with the challenges because before I got involved in boxing I was never sporty. All the other girls have backgrounds in sport for years. Since they were kids they have been training and involved in sport and that is very different to my background. I surprised myself and reinforced my view that I am a good competitor."

And Sackey will need all of that competitive spirit to firstly qualifying for Great Britain's Olympic boxing squad, and secondly win gold. "To win gold in 2012 in my home town in the first ever Olympics would be beyond amazing," adds Sackey.

The challenges that face Sackey and her fellow competitors, Alex Alam, Anna Campbell, Joni Swanston and Natalie Smith over the next six weeks are extreme in the very least, but Sackey hopes the show can go some way towards promoting women's boxing.

"There's a lot more to boxing then just women punching.

"I hope Last Women Standing can raise the profile of female boxing. There is a level of skill and dedication and focus. You'll get respect and admiration for anyone who steps into a ring, whether they are man or woman."

Last Woman Standing is broadcast on BBC Three on Tuesday at 2100 GMT.

see also
Women's boxing gains Olympic spot
13 Aug 09 |  Olympics
Olympic boost for women's boxing
22 May 09 |  Boxing
Women's boxing eyes London 2012
18 Aug 08 |  Boxing

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