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Saunders - From Romany to Beijing

By Chris Dennis

Billy Joe Saunders (right)
Billy Joe Saunders (right) is targeting gold at Beijing

Billy Joe Saunders is aiming for boxing gold at the Beijing Olympics but may have created history already.

As far as he knows, the 18-year-old welterweight from Hatfield is the first person from the Romany Gypsy community to qualify for an Olympic Games.

Billy Joe clinched his place at a qualifying event in Italy earlier this month and is one of seven boxers to make Team GB for Beijing.

Billy Joe Saunders is not the only British boxer with genuine medal prospects for Beijing, but his background has to be the most fascinating.

He comes from the Romany Gypsy community and lives on a caravan site near Hatfield in Hertfordshire.

Boxing runs deep in the Saunders family, who are immensely proud of their heritage.

His brother Tommy is a professional, his Dad Tom was an amateur and his great, great grandfather, the wonderfully named Absolom Beeny, now aged 96, used to make his living fighting in the old boxing booth at fairgrounds.

Billy Joe admits he has heard all the stories a hundred times, but once he and his brother had visited the local boxing club, he was hooked.

I hope what Billy Joe has done will help people understand a bit more about our Romany culture

Tom Saunders

"Boxing has kept me off the streets, stops me smoking and drinking and gives me something to do", he said.

His background may be colourful, but make no mistake, Billy Joe Saunders is one very special boxer.

As a boy he wasn't the most naturally gifted, but had an inner toughness that set him apart from other fighters.

His trainer, Danny Hoy, said: "When I saw him have to dig down into his boots against much older boys, I thought this kid is not the same as anyone else. There is something with this kid".

It is that something which made Billy Joe a real prospect for London 2012, so qualification for Beijing means he is effectively four years ahead of schedule.

But he is not just going to China for a holiday or for the cultural experience.

He remembers watching Amir Khan win silver in Athens four years ago, and wants to go one better. "I'm aiming for gold, simple as that", he said.

His achievement has made a real splash not just in the Saunders family, but in the gypsy community at large.

Billy Joe's father, Tom, hopes the British public will get behind his son in Beijing:

He said: "I hope what Billy Joe has done will help people understand a bit more about our Romany culture. That would be fantastic."

For the moment Billy Joe is enjoying the limelight but he knows there is plenty more hard work ahead.

He is proud of his achievements, proud of his roots and does not seem to have a care in the world.

His only worry is not knowing all the words to the national anthem.

Now there is confidence for you.

see also
Team GB for Beijing
29 Nov 07 |  Team GB
Amateur boxing explained
01 Mar 06 |  Boxing
Boxing jargon guide
13 Dec 05 |  Get Involved

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