THE wait will go on, but the uncertainty is starting to clear. New dates have been set for the European Olympic qualification event. After been cancelled abruptly in March, after just three days of the competition, due to the coronavirus pandemic, it will now resume at the Copper Box Arena from April 22-26.
The original cancellation was a hard moment for all the Olympic hopefuls and left them with many anxious months over the course of this year. All will be relieved to have a new target set. Few moreso than Frazer Clarke. The most experienced member of the GB squad, the super-heavyweight has spent a decade labouring for a shot at the Olympic Games.
“I know my goal. It’s not changed. It’s been the same for 10 years,” Frazer said. “In the lockdown there were some dark times, the uncertainty… I think it was more the questions in my own head; professional, amateur, Olympics. That was the hardest thing for me.”
The Olympics themselves were put back to July 2021. “I didn’t realise the scale of the pandemic. I didn’t understand it was going to be as big as it was. In all our boxers’ heads we don’t really look no further than the next 10 minutes let alone the next nine months. I thought give it a week, two weeks, we’ll be back on, the tournament will be. Then obviously we found out how serious things were. It sort of went from there. It was a nightmare, there’s no getting away from the fact it’s been a very difficult time. It’s been definitely character building again and testing but I’m back focused,” Clarke said. “Upsetting, but the more concerning thing about the last nine months is am I going to be healthy? Is my family going to be healthy? Boxing for the first time in my life has been on the back burner and health has been the most important thing.”
The elite GB boxers have at least been able to resume full training, even if their future plans were upended. “A lot of amateur boxing clubs aren’t open. To have a boxing club and be able to train, we’re very, very privileged,” Frazer said. “We’re well looked after and we’re privileged to be in the position that we’re in. But this is what we do day in, day out and as soon as that stops, it’s a massive shock to the system. Not just every time I’m getting on the scales, I’m having a shock. Not being able to punch every day, that’s my release, that’s what I love doing and I’m sure it’s the same for a lot of the other people.”
“Very difficult and hard and mentally tough but I’m resilient. I’m a fighter in the ring. I’m a fighter out the ring. So I’ve just come to terms with things. You just get your head around things, simple as that. That’s all you can do. Fight or flight situation,” he continued. “Being part of this programme, it teaches you. I’ve had difficult times before where I’ve overcome them. At one point I had a leg injury, I didn’t think I’d box again. So this has been difficult but you work your way around things. If the goalposts move, you just move yourself.”
Leaving the GB set up is tempting for a heavyweight, there is money to be made in that division as a professional, especially for a boxer as capable as Clarke, who has already beaten a string of Olympians. “I went through lots of different stages of thinking in lockdown. At one point I was thinking this Olympics isn’t meant to be for me. I’ve been here so long. It was one of them, I went through different stages,” Frazer reflected. “As soon as we got back into this gym and you surround yourself with the Olympic team, the Olympic coaches, my focus went straight back to the Olympic Games. I’ve come this far, I can’t miss it.”
He’s used his experience to support his other team mates. “I’m with these guys every day and they’re my friends, I know that I’ll handle things quite well compared to other members of the team. It’s easy for them to get down or maybe go off the rails. I was on the phone probably once or twice a week to different people just having a chat. I’m not officially but I take a captaincy role for the team. I try to remind even though we’re in lockdown, do what you can to stay on it, stay focused, don’t go signing no daft contracts with pro promoters trying to get you on the cheap. We’re going to the Olympic Games. We’ve all worked hard. We’ve come so far in the last four years as a squad and as an organisation, let’s just keep on it. Things will go back to normal,” he said. “I feel like as a team we’re a collective and together with the likes of me who’s got the experience, to the likes of Lauren Price who’s the most successful fighter, we’ve had to Galal and [potentially] Pat McCormack being two-time Olympians. Together I can take a lot from them, they can take a lot from me. My experience is a huge factor. I’m just one of them people that’s here to speak to the whole team, if they need to talk to me about anything. Whether that’s boxing related or not boxing related.”
He will take immense pride at representing Great Britain in Tokyo. “To represent my country first and foremost at the Olympic Games will be an absolute honour,” Clarke says. “The pride for this country that’s something I hold in my heart. To represent this country that’s something I do with ultimate pride, to wear that kit, to go and get that kit, to be part of that, is massive for me. The history is only important afterwards, after we’ve done what we’ve set out to do.
“It’s made the thirst for success even more. That waiting and that frustration, it depends how you use it but I’m using it in a really good way at the minute.
“It’s driving me to be better than I’ve ever been.”
WHAT THEY SAY
Lauren Price (World gold medallist):
“This is fantastic news for all of us in the GB Boxing team. The first event being suspended before many of us, including myself, got the chance to box was a massive disappointment. I went into the original qualifier on the back of a great run of form and my preparation had been excellent, so it was a blow when the event was stopped, although we soon realised it was the only option in the circumstances. Having confirmed dates for the re-scheduled event and knowing it is coming back to London is great news and has given all of the boxers a boost. Even without spectators, having the event on home soil is good news and means we don’t have to travel as much and will be competing in a familiar environment.”
Rob McCracken (GB performance director):
“It is very rare that our boxers get to compete in the UK and they were looking forward to the original event so it was a big disappointment when it was suspended before the majority of the team had the chance to box. The news that the event is returning to London is great for the team. After a period of uncertainty it has given all of the boxers a goal to aim towards and we will be working hard to make sure they are in the best possible shape when the qualifier starts again next year.”
Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):
“London is the sporting capital of the world and it’s fantastic that our city will host Europe’s best boxers as they compete for a place at the Tokyo Games. I hope this is just the start of world-class live sporting events returning to London.”