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Savannah the Silent Assassin

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Ben Dirs | 17:36 UK time, Monday, 2 August 2010

You'll be hearing a lot about Savannah Marshall over the next two years - but you might not be hearing much from her. That's the thing about 'Silent Assassins': they hit hard but chatting's never a strong point.

"She lets me do the talking for her," says Tim Coulter, her coach at the Headland boxing club in Hartlepool. "It's nothing personal, she's fine in the gym, it's just when she sees that pad and pen. She's spoken to journalists before and said 'just put anything down you want'." Refreshing, yes. Worrying, slightly more so. Let's hope those closest to her think the same.

In an age when you cannot move for vacuous pronouncements from our sportsmen and women, some might think a taciturn boxer, in particular, a breath of fresh air. But the 19-year-old Marshall, who defends her European middleweight crown in Hungary next week, has a compelling story to tell and will be asked to tell it often in the lead-up to London 2012, when women's boxing will make its debut.

smarshall595.jpgEuropean middleweight champion Marshall (left) poses with flyweight Nicola Adams, a world silver medallist

But, for now, it's up to others to fill us in, such as lightweight Amanda Coulson, a fellow native of Hartlepool and something of a trailblazer in the women's game.

"I knew Savannah through family and she started when I'd already made my mark in Hartlepool so I'd changed peoples' minds already," says the 28-year-old Coulson, a three-time ABA and European Championships silver medallist.

"When I started (13 years ago) there was a lot of negative feedback, they didn't want girls in the gym. But they've got over that initial shock that a woman wants to box and they accepted her like they eventually accepted me."

"When she first came to the gym I wasn't a fan of female boxing," says Coulter, "and I thought we'd soon get rid of her. So the next time she came in I put her in sparring with one of the decent kids and what surprised me the most was the aggression on her. I got a glimpse of her face when she was going in for the attack and I got a bit of a shock.

"None of the lads have held back on her. When they come from other clubs they say 'I'm not sparring with a lass, am I?' But by the end of the first round they're trying to take her head off. You forget it's a female when someone's punching you hard in the face."

Marshall won all 10 of her junior fights before moving seamlessly into the senior ranks, winning European gold in her fifth contest. And last Friday she found herself competing alongside Coulson and flyweight Nicola Adams, a world silver medallist, in front of a raft of legendary names, including Roberto Duran and Vitali Klitschko, at the Cardiff International Arena. Not that Marshall was too impressed.

"I don't know anyone here," she told me. "I thought I saw Mike Tyson - but it wasn't him."

To be fair, Klitschko probably wasn't that impressed by Marshall - the two-time world heavyweight king is on record as saying women's boxing "makes me feel nausea" - but the "oohs" and "aahs" that greeted each clunking left hook delivered to the chin of her hapless Swedish opponent sounded like others in the throes of being converted.

"She's not the fastest but she hits so hard," says Coulter. "She knocked a lad down in the gym with a left hook to the body, and he's fought some of the best middleweights in the country. That's her biggest asset, her punching power, and she hasn't even reached adult strength yet."

Injuries permitting - Marshall has been suffering with sore elbows of late - Coulter's certain she has what it takes to be one of the stars of 2012. And to that end he's been trying to instil in his charge exactly what that might mean.

"There's no reason why she can't be Olympic champion," says Coulter. "She's the best, I've been saying for a long time that the sky's the limit. But I hope she gets some guidance. If she wins a gold medal in a new sport like women's boxing, in her own country, she could become a household name."

Coulson, meanwhile, takes the view that Marshall's nonchalance could be a positive thing. "She's just a kid at the minute but there's less pressure if you take it in your stride like she does. Some people could fall apart thinking about the Olympics all the time."

When I ask Marshall if she'll be ready for all the attention that's sure to come her way - the photoshoots, the on-air interviews with John Inverdale and Clare Balding, the rubber-neckers from the tabloid press - she smiles that shy smile and just says "yeh". Memo to Inverdale and Balding: she's a good kid, just bring a lot of questions.

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