Northern Ireland

Boxers fighting fit for London Olympics

Ireland's men's boxing team have been getting fighting fit for the London games
Image caption Ireland's men's boxing team have been getting fighting fit for the London games

Boxing has traditionally been Ireland's strongest sport at the Olympics and hopes are high that the London Games will see another healthy medal count.

Paddy Barnes, 25, hopes to become the first Irish boxer to pick up a medal in two Olympic Games.

The Belfast light-flyweight won a bronze medal in Beijing four years ago but stressed he has not been "feeling any pressure" as the games beckon.

"I've my own expectations, I've my own dreams," said the 2010 European Champion.

"I'd love to be the first Irish boxer to come home from the Olympic games with two medals. It would just be a dream come true and a lifetime ambition for me."

And he said he thrived on the pressure of expectation now heaped upon him ahead of the London games.

"Every championship I go to now after the Olympic (Beijing) games I've always been under a bit of pressure because of the bronze I won, and it shows I can get on top of the pressure after winning the Europeans and the Commonwealth Games," he said.

"So I don't really fall to pressure, I take it as it comes."

He said he never doubted he would qualify for the Olympics - but this time he knows exactly what to expect.

"Last time I was in Beijing you were walking past 10,000 athletes, big stars and you are a bit star struck. This time now you just know we are all here to do the same job," he said.

"In Beijing you could say I was only just a kid. I had very little international experience. This time around I have four years international experience. You can't buy that experience."

Barnes is one of two Belfast fighters on the Ireland boxing team.

Michael Conlan, 20, a flyweight from the Falls Road in Belfast is preparing for his first Olympic Games.

"It's been unreal. Two years ago I could not imagine it. I did say I was going to do it," he said.

"It's just been great to be living a dream. I'm not putting pressure on myself at all, so I'm going out there just to do my best."

Image caption Katie Taylor in action during the AIBA World Women"s Boxing Championships in China in May

Both Belfast men have genuine medal prospects.

But Ireland's best opportunity of an Olympic gold medal in the ring could rest with Katie Taylor from Brae, in County Wicklow.

She is a four-time world amateur champion; her most recent title in China earlier this year secured her ticket to the Olympic Games.

"For the last couple of years people have been wishing me well in the Olympics and I had to keep telling people that I still had to qualify first," she said.

"There was so much pressure on me going into this competition. It's just a big relief really to finally qualify now, to be going into the Olympics as a current world champion."

All three of Ireland's medals in the last Olympics were won in the boxing ring, so there is a weight of expectation upon the squad.

The challenge for the team's head coach, Billy Walsh, is to make sure they do not become distracted.

"Our ambitions would be to, obviously in the female side, to win a medal and in the male side to win a medal," he said.

"But there's a process that we go through to deliver those performances. If we don't control the hype around the team, if we don't control the expectation around the team, that may not happen.

"It will be my job to control all that so that we get our best performances.

"A lot will depend on the draw, we need a good draw to get ourselves into the competition and we are capable of beating anybody there. We got to produce the performance to do that."

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