BBC BLOGS - Ben Dirs
« Previous | Main | Next »

GB boxers set up for success

Post categories:

Ben Dirs | 14:46 UK time, Thursday, 3 June 2010

Spend a day with Great Britain's elite amateur boxers at their HQ in Sheffield and the thought might occur to you, as it did to me: did Ivan Drago have it this good?

Certainly Terry Spinks, a gold medallist at the 1956 Olympics and one of an array of former Olympians who stare down at the London 2012 hopefuls from huge posters at the state-of-the-art facility, never did.

The 18-year-old Spinks was collecting bins at the Albert Dock in East London a week before his late call-up for the Melbourne Games, a lack of money the reason given for his original omission.

No energy drinks in the Albert Dock caffs and no nutritionists, just a cup of tea and maybe an appetite-curbing fag. No physio, no conditioning or lifestyle coach, no video-analyst, and the nearest Spinks would have come to psychology was the odd rocket from his trainer.

The members of the 12-man GB squad for the European Championships, which start in Moscow on Friday, will be more professional than most professionals, with round-the-clock monitoring four or five days a week and a regular, if modest, income.

In order to see this content you need to have both Javascript enabled and Flash installed. Visit BBC Webwise for full instructions

BBC Sport's Ronald McIntosh goes behind the scenes in Sheffield with Britain's top amateur boxers

Performance director Rob McCracken, who was appointed to the role last November, said his charges "can't have more opportunity of being a success" and that "nothing is left to chance" on his watch. Nutritionist Mark Ellison, who also works for Manchester United, said "not many programmes have got it better".

"Surely it's one of the best gyms in the world, there's not much it hasn't got," agreed Antony Ogogo, who will compete at middleweight in Moscow. "It's a bit different from the Triple A gym in Lowestoft, the ring there's not even square."

"I've boxed all over the world and trained all over the world and there's nowhere like this," said light-welterweight Bradley Saunders, who competed in Beijing and witnessed the disintegration of the previous regime, with Terry Edwards departing as head coach and a host of Olympians turning pro.

The dismissal of Edwards, who led Britain to three medals in Beijing, was roundly criticised at the time and Saunders said he was "very sad to see him go". But even Saunders had to admit McCracken had "changed everything for the better", while other boxers told me they responded better to McCracken's more serene approach.

"Last year you didn't know whether you were coming or going a lot of the time," added Saunders, from Stockton-on-Tees. "But Rob's come in and put everything into place."

Ogogo, a two-weight senior ABA champion, added: "Compared to Terry, Rob is so much calmer. Rob just makes everything so simple and is a nice guy to have around."

McCracken, who also trains former WBC super-middleweight world champion Carl Froch, said the boxers "needed direction" when he arrived and to that end he has made the training more bespoke. The work-load has been cut, always a popular move, and the boxers now work in shifts, ensuring more one-to-one tuition with the programme's five full-time coaches.

"You'll be sparring with someone and you'll have your own coach and he'll have his own coach, so it's more of a bout situation," said the 21-year-old Ogogo. "The same trainer will then do the pads and the bag with you, so the mistakes you were making in the spar you can go and rectify straightaway."

The elite 'podium squad' under McCracken has also been expanded (it currently contains 21 boxers), a move to "keep everyone on their toes" and a move that has already led to one or two awkward moments, but good awkward moments, the kind every coach aspires to.

"They need a kid at the same weight who's pushing them," said former British middleweight champion McCracken, who turned down the chance to represent his country at the Barcelona Olympics in order to turn pro. "You can't relax and think 'I'm OK, there's no-one on the horizon who's going to challenge me'."

The featherweight division is developing into a real bun-fight, with Bournemouth's Iain Weaver picked ahead of Luke Campbell for Moscow, despite Campbell winning Britain's first European Championship gold for 47 years as a bantamweight in 2008. Meanwhile, Martin Ward won the ABA title at the same weight last month, although he is set to move up a division.

"It is awkward sometimes, like when they told me I was going and then seeing Luke and knowing he'd been told he wasn't," said the 20-year-old Weaver, who landed silver at the prestigious Prime Ministry tournament in Turkey in April.

"But every training session I know I have to perform, keep my head down and stay out of trouble. The Olympics are not far off, the first qualifiers are only next year."

Added Ogogo: "You've got to remember, they want my spot, so while we're all friends at the minute, I don't know if it's going to be the same in 18 months' time! But we've got that competitive edge in the gym, which is what you need."

With the eyes of Spinks and Co following his every move like portraits in an art gallery, Weaver says London 2012, the ultimate goal for most of the current crop, is difficult to escape. "You look up and see the past medal winners, so you're always thinking about it," he said. "And when you're tired on the bag, you keep going because it's all for the Olympics."

McCracken readily admits the countdown to London begins in Moscow, and is acutely aware "the British public are funding and the British public are watching".

World-class facilities bring hope and hope brings pressure. And unlike in the movies, the British public, strict judges that they are, will be expecting these little Dragos to win.

As well as my blogs, you can follow me when I'm out and about at


  • Comment number 1.

    Thanks for the interesting article Ben. McCracken certainly sounds like he's made a big difference. Anyway Ben, could you clarify soemthing for me? In the artcicle Waever talks about 'the first qualifiers (for the Olympics)are only next year'. However I was uner the impression that as host nation we automatically get spots in all weight categories. Is this not the case anymore, or was it never so? Or is it referring to the process they'll use to select whichever particular British boxer?

  • Comment number 2.

    Sorry about the dire spelling!

  • Comment number 3.

    Very interesting to get some proper background in advance of the olympics. Boxing may have lost popularity in the masses but we have some really encouraging young prospects taking into account this crop and the recently turned pro previous olympians.

    The only odd thing is considering the obvious expertise and intelligence of McCracken, how he hasnt been able to teach Carl Froch to use some form of defence : )

  • Comment number 4.

    Great Stuff! Will they show any of this Moscow tournament on BBC? Would love to see amateur boxing get more of a television profile . . .

  • Comment number 5.

    A lot of these British amateurs boxers have bad habits from what i have seen that will limit them at the highest level in the pro game, no feints, no head movement and no awareness of punches coming back after throwing a punch.

  • Comment number 6.

    With so much PUBLIC money being invested in their training and the silly money they could get when they turn pro, shouldn't some kind of contract be signed by all of these 'amateurs', so that once they turn pro some of their winnings (say 5%) goes back into training the next generation of boxers.

  • Comment number 7.

    Hello all, sorry about the delay in getting back to you but I've been off for a few days...

    LuskusDelph - It's a little bit complicated, but basically GB get six automatic spots, five for the men and one for the women. This amount can obviously rise so that we have boxers in all categories. We will know half the GB team after the first qualifiers (the world champs in Korea next September) after which there is a second qualifying event somewhere in Europe in spring 2012.

    ValeroRIP - Alas, there is no coverage of the Moscow event on the BBC.

    supergunner07 - Well, if that is the case, let's hope McCracken can iron out any wrinkles before 2012.

    freddawlanen - I understand where you're coming from, and actually I don't think it's a bad idea at all. Although the irony is that the kids up at Sheffield are more comfortable financially than most pros - take European super-bantamweight champ Rendall Munroe for example, he's still got his job as a binman in Leicester.

  • Comment number 8.

    okay, Friday's the day of reckoning, let's see to it that they won't win a single gold. Bronze is more than enough for this talentless but brazen lot and unlike you I've seen them on tv.

  • Comment number 9.

    Norman Conquest lol. 3 in the finals so that's 3 silvers in the bag at least. That has to hurt.

  • Comment number 10.

    win many golds?

    Okay 3 silvers then is what Team GB's got and -- frankly -- its all they are good for. tbh, i didn't see anything from them so even 3 silvers and a bronze is a huge success. Gold is strictly for the big boys -- for the real fighters.

  • Comment number 11.

    "Gold is strictly for the big boys -- for the real fighters."

    Didn't Audrey Harrison win a gold medal once, he may be a massive feller but he's a joke as a boxer.
    Overall three silver and two bronze medals is a good haul at European level, if the same amount of medals can be achieved at the Olympics I'd be very happy indeed.

    ...and re my previous point about amateur funding, something should really be set out in a contract with regards to payment from boxers when they turn pro, similar to university loans, many may not like the idea, but just on principle everyone should learn early in life that you don't get anything worthwhile for free, that's why I suggest a fixed percentage of earnings.

  • Comment number 12.

    I belıeve the GB boxers have great futures and recıeve a good deal of optımısım wıthın every boxıng gym across the country. To brand thıs level as the brazen lot ıs a very bold statement. Ive seen ındivıdual talents lıke a man named Leigh Wood at many shows who performs at a terrifıc level wıth great dedıcatıon, skıll and power. And ıf he cant get ın the GB boxıng squad, then god help those other countrıes that do box agaınst out cream of the crop.


BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.