Lauren Price: The girl who reached for the moon and came down with Olympic boxing gold

By Tom BrownBBC Sport Wales at the Tokyo Olympics

In the early 2000s, an eight-year-old was asked to write down three goals as part of a school project.

She wrote that she wanted to become a kickboxing world champion, play international football for Wales and go to the Olympic Games.

Her teacher raised an eyebrow, but the girl's grandmother told her to let the girl dream.

She had always told her granddaughter to reach for the moon and that if she fell short, she would land on the stars.

By the time she was 27, the girl had achieved all three of her goals.

And then she went even further. Not only did she go to the Olympics, but the middleweight won a gold medal.

This is the story of Lauren Price: Olympic boxing champion.

Price was only three days old when it was decided her parents would not be able to look after her.

Her nan, Linda, and granddad, Derek, took her in and raised her. Their terraced house in the south Wales town of Ystrad Mynach became Price's home too.

They used to call her Tigger.

'Without my grandparents I'd have been put in care' - Welsh boxer Lauren Price

The young Price had so much energy that her sporting journey began as a means of helping her burn off some steam.

"She was an adorable child - always smiling, always happy," Linda recalls. "But always very, very busy - into everything.

"When she was very young, she was obsessed with football and running around. On a wet day she'd get a football and she'd be kicking it up and down the stairs.

"I knew we had to do something because she was continually on the go."

'Her appetite was insatiable'

They tried athletics first. Derek took seven-year-old Lauren to a local club in Bargoed, but they were told she was too young.

So the former football coach contacted an old friend, who was setting up a football club in nearby Fleur-de-Lys. Price became their first, and only, girl member.

She loved the physical side of sport and it was not long before she took up kickboxing too. Rob Taylor had a club called Devils Martial Arts - the club that also shaped the early years of Great Britain taekwondo star Lauren Williams, who took silver in Tokyo - and coached groups of children in the local leisure centre.

"I'll always remember her coming through the door," Rob smiles. "Little girl, bright blonde hair.

"She just had such an appetite for working. She always wanted to hit the pads.

"She was training seven, eight, nine, 10 hours a week. Three, four nights a week. Her gran and granddad would bring her along. She's back again, back again.

"We'd tried a competition and she'd do well in that. Then we'd move on and on.

"Her appetite and work-rate was insatiable. It was just infectious."

Lauren Price kickboxing
Lauren Price won four kickboxing world titles as a teenager before taking up boxing.

By the time Lauren was 13, she was fighting adults - and beating them.

She won four senior world kickboxing titles, as well as a host of European golds.

At every training session and competition, at home or abroad, her grandparents would be there.

"If it wasn't for my nan and granddad supporting me, I wouldn't have achieved anything," Price has said.

"They paid thousands for me to travel abroad and for me to compete, training every night, driving around the country."

Linda says there was never a question. Welcoming the young Price into their home had given her and Derek a new lease of life.

Nearly every day of the week they would take her to training - kickboxing on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Football training twice a week, then a match on Saturday and another on Sunday.

"I just knew she was going to succeed," Linda says. "She was one of these kids who got it into her head she was going to achieve and she just did.

"With her kickboxing, sometimes she'd train four hours a night. That's an awful lot of hours to be training when you're only nine or 10.

"She never once said, 'I don't want to go to training tonight'. Whether it was football or kickboxing. Never once. You just knew she was going to do something good."

Even as the kickboxing titles racked up, Price continued to play football.

After the age of 14, girls were no longer allowed to play in boys' teams. So she moved to Georgetown Girls in Merthyr Tydfil - before Cardiff City Women came calling.

"I don't think I'll ever coach another player as good as Lauren, with her ability but also her discipline," former coach Lesley-Ann Judd says.

"That's what I liked about Lauren. Her discipline to always improve.

"In training she'd be there early. Sometimes before I'd even set the cones up. And she'd be there right until the end.

"If she needed to work on something, she'd work on it. She listened and everything was just perfected."

Price's nan always encouraged her.

When she wrote out those three goals at school, Linda warned her teacher not to shatter her dreams.

"I've always said 'reach for the moon and if you fall short, you'll land on the stars'," she says.

"Something will come. Just be determined and persevere. Always believe in yourself."

Lauren Price
Price gave up playing football for Wales to concentrate on her boxing career

Price's footballing ability soon turned heads. She represented Wales at under-16, under-17, under-19 and senior level - all before her 17th birthday.

She went on to play for her country 52 times across all age groups and captained Wales Under-19s, winning two senior caps in 2012-13.

Those kickboxing world titles and international football caps meant that two of the three goals that eight-year-old Lauren had written out had been achieved.

But the challenge to become an Olympian remained.

A life-changing decision

"I'd always watched the Olympics from a young age," Price said. "I remember seeing Kelly Holmes [at Athens 2004] and people like that.

"It's the biggest sporting event ever. It just gave me goosebumps. I just wanted to compete in it one day. I didn't know in one sport or how."

Her kickboxing and football careers continued, but Price had also gone for a trial at GB Taekwondo - and been successful.

She left home at 16 and moved to Manchester. She lived with future double Olympic champion Jade Jones, who had also recently joined the programme.

The London Olympics were round the corner but the sport was not quite right for Price.

"It didn't really fit with me," she admitted. "It was hard being away from home at that age.

"In kickboxing I was always better with my hands than my legs. So I decided to come back and went to a boxing gym."

It proved to be a life-changing decision.

This was not Price's first time in a boxing gym. She had done a bit to improve her upper-body strength as she thought it would help her improve as a defender in football.

But it was the first time she started to take it seriously.

As ever, her granddad would willingly take her to train.

Unsurprisingly, her kickboxing background and physical fitness meant she hit the ground running.

It was not long before she was sent to the Wales boxing squad for an assessment.

She impressed and at 17 years old was selected for the Youth World Championships.

Price reached the final and looked on course to win, only for the fight to be stopped because she got a nosebleed. She still seems aggrieved to this day.

She continued to box for Wales and play football for her country.

In football, she captained Wales Under-19s at a home European Championship.

In boxing, she was given an opportunity that would change the course of her sporting career for good.

Women's boxing had just been added to the Commonwealth Games programme. In 2014 she was given the chance to box for Team Wales.

The time had come to throw her weight behind one sport and having watched Nicola Adams and Katie Taylor win gold at London 2012, Price had the Olympic Games in her sights once again.

She went to the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games and won bronze in the women's middleweight competition. Even now, she believes she was unlucky in the semi-final.

Lauren Price with Anthony Joshua photo
Price joined the GB Boxing programme after the Rio 2016 Olympics.

A taxi to the top

Price continued to train and continued to compete, but the Welsh programme was not full-time.

So she became a taxi driver at the weekend, delivering passengers back home through the night. It all helped make ends meet.

Then, after the 2016 Olympics, she got a chance to trial for the British programme in Sheffield - which had brought back eight Olympic medals at the last two Games alone.

"Your initial thoughts are 'is she just awkward or is she good?'," says GB Boxing performance director Rob McCracken.

"That's your first thought because it's early days. Then you quickly realise she was really good. Loads of potential.

"She had a really good platform with Wales. They brought her through on to GB and she's just got better and bigger and smarter and stronger - and technically [she is] really sound.

"Her achievements have been phenomenal. She's just been absolutely brilliant."

Within 18 months of moving on to the full-time GB programme, Price won Commonwealth gold in 2018. The following year she won European Games gold in the summer, before securing her first world title that autumn.

When 2020 - an Olympic year - came around, Price was the reigning world, European and Commonwealth champion and world number one.

It seemed her third big target was finally about to be hit.

But then Covid-19 hit.

Boxing's Olympic qualifying event in London was the perfect example of how quickly the world as we knew it unravelled. It began at the Copper Box Arena on Saturday, moved behind closed doors on Sunday and was suspended by the Monday.

Price had been due to fight for her Olympic spot on Tuesday afternoon.

The following week the Tokyo Games was postponed and Price, like everyone, was in lockdown - training in her garage in Sheffield.

"It affected me more mentally than anything," she said, "just because I'd been on such a roll of winning.

"I hadn't boxed for 18 months [by the end] so you have a lot of questions in your head. Even though you're doing the training, it's totally different when you're in that ring.

"Luckily enough I had a good team behind me and they got me through it and peaked me at the right time."

'He was my number one fan'

But while Price continued to train hard in Sheffield for the rearranged Tokyo Games, at home in Ystrad Mynach her granddad Derek's health was sadly deteriorating.

He had been diagnosed with dementia some years before and although the pride he felt for his granddaughter had burned through when he spoke to BBC Wales in 2019, it was obvious he could no longer remember all the precise details of Price's early sporting success.

Lauren Price and her nan, Linda
Lauren speaks to her nan every night and goes back home to see her whenever she can

The man who took Price to every boxing session, every kickboxing competition and every football match died in November 2020.

"He was such a big part of my life," Price says. "He was my number one fan.

"He got me involved in it and he was sport mad. I'd go everywhere with him.

"For me I take it as a blessing that he's not suffering any more. I tried to prepare myself for it but when it happens there's nothing like losing someone. So I was in a bit of a state."

Price was home when he passed away. She stayed for the funeral but then flew to San Diego for a training camp. The Olympics were eight months away and, as Linda says, Price's granddad would not have wanted her to miss out.

The qualifying event was eventually held in Paris in June. Price took the gold to secure her spot in Tokyo in style.

She went back home, as she always did after a big competition. Usually she would show her granddad any medal she had won. Even when Derek was ill, Price says, she could tell he was still proud.

This time her granddad was not there. So Price placed her medal next to the vase that held his ashes. It is still there.

"A bit strange I know," Price says. "But normally I'd give it to him and he wasn't there.

"For me the biggest thing I take from it is I know he's looking down on me and he's with me.

"We got there in the end."

The Duke of Cambridge meets Team GB boxer Lauren Price

The story of Lauren Price had one more remarkable chapter before she left for Tokyo. She was invited to Kensington Palace to be interviewed by the Duke of Cambridge.

Price calls her nan every night, wherever she is, and Linda responds with encouraging text messages.

The Duke joked we could all use that and she should start a motivational texting business. He then proceeded to give Price a cake to mark her 27th birthday.

Price - level-headed as ever - took the whole experience in her stride.

She arrived in Tokyo, completed her final preparations and walked out towards the ring to face Mongolian fighter Myagmarjargal Munkhbat.

She was an Olympian. But what more could she achieve?

She beat Munkhbat in the round of 16 and then beat Panama's Atheyna Bylon to guarantee herself an Olympic medal.

The semi-final pitted her against long-time Dutch rival Nouchka Fontijn. The woman Price had beaten to win her European Games and World Championship titles - but who had beaten her twice this year already.

Fontijn won the first round and looked on course to end Price's Olympic dream. But a brilliant final-round performance from the Welsh fighter secured a narrow win and a place in the final.

China's Li Qian, the 2018 world champion, now stood in her way but Price dominated from the start, outworking and outmanoeuvring her taller opponent.

With the first two rounds going to Price, her opponent needed a stoppage or knockout in the final round. But the Welsh southpaw's pressure was unrelenting and she skilfully took that as well for a 5-0 points victory, with a 30-27 winning margin on all five judges' scorecards securing the Olympic title - and Britain's 22nd and final gold in Tokyo.

Lauren Price controlled the Olympic final against China's Li Qian from start to finish
Lauren Price controlled the Olympic final against China's Li Qian from start to finish

Price also became the second British woman to win boxing gold after Adams' flyweight successes in 2012 and 2016 and the first Welsh boxer to achieve Olympics success.

At the family home in Ystrad Mynach, framed on the wall, is the phrase that Price was always told by her nan.

'Reach for the moon and if you fall short, you will land on the stars.'

But this is the story of a girl who reached for the moon and grabbed it.

A kickboxing world champion, an international footballer and an Olympic boxing champion.

The result of years of dedication, hours of hard training and, of course, the love and support of her nan and granddad.

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