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Buzz grows around women's boxing after Olympic decision

Female boxers duke it out for 2012 places

By Nabil Hassan
BBC Sport in Portsmouth

"You don't get paid for overtime, if you can win in the first round then you have to do it," Britain's Amir Khan told me after his brutal destruction of Dmitriy Salita in December 2009.

It was that ruthless desire for victory which saw Khan become world champion aged 22, but his journey began with an amateur career that culminated in winning a silver medal at the Athens Olympics in 2004.

Anyone watching the now WBA light-welterweight champion on his way to Olympic success six years ago would have known the boy was a bit special.

I'm from Essex, Stratford is on my doorstep, so I would be over the moon to compete at London 2012

Nina Smith

With the London Olympics just over two years away, Britain's latest crop of amateur boxers hope they are on the road to emulating Khan.

And the fact they are female is now no longer an issue after the decision last August to end boxing's status as the sole remaining Olympic sport available only to men.

Like Khan, GB lightweight Natasha Jonas has shown an ability to get the job done quickly.

On Sunday, her classy destruction of opponent Rebecca Donnelly inside three rounds saw her win her fourth ABA title in Portsmouth.

Natasha Jonas
Jonas is one of GB's brightest medal hopes for London 2012

"I knew there were only 30 seconds left in the round, I wanted the stoppage, I was determined to get the fight finished early so I let go with some big shots," Jonas told BBC Sport afterwards.

Jonas, from the Rotunda gym in Kirkdale, Merseyside, is every bit as competitive as Khan and, like the Bolton man, oozes class in the ring.

The 25-year-old's dismantling of Donnelly was a joy to watch, forcing Sunday's referee to give her opponent a standing eight count three times before the contest was finally stopped.

The Liverpool boxer was one of two boxers from the elite Great Britain squad in action on Sunday.

And while the Mountbatten Centre in Portsmouth provided an unlikely setting, the action gave a fascinating insight into the strength of the women's game with the London 2012 Olympics just over two years away.

Another member of the elite squad, flyweight Nina Smith comfortably won her final, prevailing 42-25 in a grudge match against Sharon Holford.

Smith's style is thoroughly entertaining to watch. All-action, high-octane, no-nonsense, the Essex boxer is a bundle of explosive energy in the ring and could force her way into the reckoning for a place at 2012.

But for some, women's boxing has no place in the Olympics and Khan himself has admitted to being uncomfortable watching ladies fight.

"Deep down I think women shouldn't fight. That's my opinion," he told the BBC last August.

"When you get hit it's very painful. Women can get knocked out."

Neurology student Holly Keats, who also competed on Sunday, would surely disagree.

Nina Smith
Nina Smith competes in the 51kg flyweight division

Her Class-B 63.5kg final with Louise Taylor was a bloody, brutal affair but there is no doubt in her mind that women's boxing is safe and females deserve their place in London.

"If you can prove that you're as good as your male counterparts in any sport then people have to accept you," explained Jonas, who is going someway to doing that.

Smith is joined in the flyweight division by Lucy O'Connor and arguably Britain's best female boxer, 2008 world silver medallist Nicola Adams.

Injury and illness prevented both O'Connor and Adams from competing at this year's ABA finals but selection for 2012 at flyweight will perhaps be GB's most competitive division.

"I'm from Essex, Stratford is on my doorstep, so I would be over the moon to compete at London 2012," Smith said.

And if Smith continues to box as she did on Sunday, then that dream may just turn into a reality.

I really think we've got the talent coming through to win medals at 2012

ABAE's head of development Rebecca Gibson

The decision to allow female boxing at the Olympics has given the sport a massive shot in the arm. Participation is up and standards are improving as a result.

"Since it was announced that women's boxing would be in the Olympics, the number of female registered boxers has increased by 26% from 642 to 868 in England," explained the ABAE's head of development Rebecca Gibson.

To put that figure into context, in 2005 there were 70 registered female boxers in Great Britain.

The buzz in Portsmouth on Sunday was evident. The Olympic decision has increased competiveness and interest from spectators and media.

Jonas' every move was followed by a camera crew from BBC North West that has tracked her for the past three months for a documentary to be screened in September.

And Gibson is bullish as to medal chances in 2012 replying "of course we can" when asked whether GB can claim glory in London.

"I really think we've got the talent coming through to win medals at 2012," she said.

"We've got a GB talent programme, funded by UK Sport with sports scientists, nutritionists, excellent coaches and an amazing venue to train in.

"It's down to the boxers to get there and I'm sure they will because they are hungry for it."

Competing with Jonas at lightweight is Amanda Coulson and bright-prospect Ruth Raper, who is just 19 years old.

Jonas, a social worker in Liverpool, has had to drop down to 60kg, one of three Olympic weight classes, from her natural 64kg to compete at 2012. It is just a small sacrifice to make in order to compete at London's ExCel Arena in just over two years' time.

Other medal hopes for the Olympics include 18-year-old Savannah Marshall who is the only member of the 75kg middleweight division in GB's elite squad.

606: DEBATE

There is genuine excitement surrounding Marshall whose main hurdle seems to be finding decent domestic competition. She currently gets most of her experience from fighting with the men's development squad in Sheffield.

Marshall, who according to her male counterparts at Hartlepool's Headland boxing club "hits like a lad," has all the physical attributes to succeed in the sport, standing 6ft tall she is still unbeaten and could well lead Britain's medal charge in London.

Next up for the elite boxers is a training camp in Crete, a further sign of the professionalism of the GB amateur set-up, before the World Championships in Barbados in September.

GB's performance at those championships will give a clearer indication of how much progress has been made by the country's best female boxers, from the day they received the news they would be able to compete at the London Games, to the day they get the chance to go for gold.



see also
Female boxer eyes Olympic history
16 Apr 10 |  Boxing
GB Boxing selects women's squad
26 Mar 10 |  Olympics
Olympic boost for women's boxing
22 May 09 |  Boxing
Ex-pro McCracken to guide GB team
05 Nov 09 |  Boxing
Women's boxing gains Olympic spot
13 Aug 09 |  Olympics
Amateur boxing explained
01 Mar 06 |  Boxing


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