The girls who pack a punch

122685_BOXING_15/8/12''(l-r) Beth Bowden, Natasha Cole, Rachel Matthews, Paris Dunford, Tanya Morgan, Hayley Hill, Maria Norman, Megan Sharp, Amanda Holloway and Kelly O'Neill. ''Women boxing at Gosport Boxing Club, Gosport. ''Picture: Allan Hutchings (122685-304)

122685_BOXING_15/8/12''(l-r) Beth Bowden, Natasha Cole, Rachel Matthews, Paris Dunford, Tanya Morgan, Hayley Hill, Maria Norman, Megan Sharp, Amanda Holloway and Kelly O'Neill. ''Women boxing at Gosport Boxing Club, Gosport. ''Picture: Allan Hutchings (122685-304)

Stuart Piper with his wife Debbie and children Megan, 10, and 12-year-old Abigail  Picture: Sarah Standing (170385-8300)

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The sound of gloved fists raining on punch bags fills the air as a training session gets under way.

The men, women, lads and girls at the boxing gym are attacking their man-made targets for very different reasons. Some are hitting for fitness and others are venting the frustrations of the day.

A third group are punching with expertise and furious focus in the hope of one day striking competition gold.

This very ordinary boxing gym in Gosport, with its line-up of punch bags and sparring ring, is like hundreds of others across the country – the sort of place where dreams are made.

It would have been in a similar venue that a 12-year-old Nicola Adams made her first tentative punches on the road to Olympic glory.

And some of the ambitious girls training at Gosport Amateur Boxing Club are dreaming of one day following in her fist-strikes.

‘Nicola’s amazing, she’s just an animal with her technique and skill,’ says 18-year-old Natasha Cole, who has met and trained with the boxing world’s first female Olympic gold medallist.

Natasha, who is a member of Moneyfields Boxing Club in Portsmouth, but often trains with girls in Gosport, last year won an Amateur Boxing Association National Championships gold medal and was invited to train with the GB team.

‘They were fantastic, it was pretty intimidating. I wasn’t asked to join at that point but there are four years until Rio and at least I’m now on the radar.’

One of the Gosport club’s big hitters is Paris Dunford who, at 15, is still gathering experience. But she has also won National Championships in her age and weight category and dreams of competing in future Olympics.

Who knows though what fresh talent may arrive. According to figures from Sport England, the number of women who participate in boxing has risen steadily over the last four years. More than 19,600 women currently train at least once a week.

Gosport coach Amanda Holloway, 36, says it’s a very different world from when she started and there wasn’t a competition scene.

‘I think what happened is that more women gave it a go and people saw that they had the same sort of techniques, skills and ability as men.’

The scene is now expecting a huge surge from the ‘Adams effect’.

Amanda says there was a rush of interest following the announcement that women’s boxing would be featured at London 2012. But there have been even more phone calls since Adams, from Leeds, won her medal.

Many women have worked out that boxing training gives them a great work-out and do it for fitness but competitor numbers are rising too.

Darren Blair, who runs Gosport Amateur Boxing Club, believes the girls can match their male counterparts in skill if not strength.

‘It’s just that there are more male boxers and a lot of competition,’ he says. ‘But the standard of the women is extremely high.’

Great amateur boxing relies on fitness, focus, natural talent, technique and skill. But it sometimes suffers from an image problem.

‘People expect broken noses and things like that, but I’ve never had a cut to the face. I do judo and I’ve had injuries in that but not boxing,’ says Amanda, who also coaches the newly formed women’s Hampshire team,

There is obviously some injury risk but amateur boxing is the safer end of the sport. Unlike professionals, amateurs wear protective head gear and bouts are shorter and scored differently. And great care is taken to match age (in the junior ranks), weight, skill and experience.

Darren and Amanda hope that London 2012 and the performances of boxers like Nicola, Natasha Jonas and Anthony Joshua has boosted the image of the sport and encouraged both men and women.

Certainly Joshua should serve as an inspiration. Now 22, he first walked into a boxing gym four years ago, proving that natural talent combined with hard work and focus go along way.

And Rio is four years away!

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