THE European Games begin on Friday (June 21) at the Sport Palace in Minsk, Belarus.
GB have a strong squad going with veteran super-heavyweight Frazer Clarke leading the charge. Their men’s team is coming off a gruelling training camp in Kazakhstan. “It’s the fifth time I’ve been there,” Frazer said. “I don’t think anyone in the world’s been to Kazakhstan five times apart from me. So I went there, I knew what it was all about, I knew you always come back from there in a good place. It’s hard training out there and there’s so many boxers. There were five [at 91kgs to spar]. They were all at a good level, it was all good competitive sparring.”
Looking forward to these Europeans he says, “I’m excited because I like the big tournaments. It’s difficult for me because I’ve been around for so long, I’ve been to every tournament about five times. The big ones are the ones that really get the juices going. So I’m really up for this one now. I’m feeling fit, sharp and mentally there.
‘I’m 100 percent and at the top of my game, there’s not many people in the world that can beat me’Peter McGrail
“There’s only a couple of big ones left, with the Worlds and the Olympics, and the qualifiers, I’m just enjoying all I can because these are going to be some of the last times I’m going to box for my country.
“We’re down to the crunch, now more than ever, I’m not looking from the sidelines, I’m in the thick of it.”
This championship is effectively a European Olympics, a multi-sport competition which for most of the boxing team is their first event representing Team GB. Bantamweight Peter McGrail however boxed in the Youth Olympics for Great Britain and sees this tournament as a crucial step on his path to Tokyo 2020.
“There’s going to a [Athlete’s] Village, there’s going to be other sports there, it’s going to be a good experience, I’m looking forward to enjoying it with the team,” McGrail said. “I can see a good few medals coming back and a few golds.”
He is confident in himself. “Obviously in 2017 I won [the European championships], it’s similar opponents and I’ve got two years more experience and I’m feeling stronger, feeling fitter. I don’t see why I can’t win the gold,” he said. “If [Mykola] Butsenko’s there, he was tough fight in the final out in Ukraine, I think there’s a good Russian and Kurt Walker’s going. He’s a good fighter. He caught me on an off day though when he beat me. I’ve boxed him a few times. It’s 2-1 to me.
“I know that if I’m 100 percent and at the top of my game, there’s not many people in the world that can beat me.”
Given the turmoil with AIBA, which is the governing body for international boxing but has been suspended from running the Olympic boxing tournament itself, these Europeans do not relate to qualification for Tokyo 2020. The judging though certainly will be under scrutiny and it remains a valuable chance for the boxers to test themselves against the continent’s finest in a major championship.
Two Welsh boxers make up the GB women’s team, Lauren Price at middleweight and Rosie Eccles at 69kgs. They were preparing at a camp in Germany before returning to the English Institute of Sport in Sheffield.
Eccles lost to England’s Sandy Ryan at last year’s Commonwealth Games but she will be representing Britain in this event. “It’s a big opportunity, a big stage, perfect really,” she said. “We had to qualify, so Sandy didn’t qualify. It wasn’t on selection, it was on qualification. I qualified just a year ago now. So that gives me a big opportunity in the lead up to prove my place and my value to be the one to go to Tokyo.
“I feel really proud obviously to be representing Great Britain as a whole in a multi-sport Games, which is the closest I’m going to get before the Olympic Games. Exciting.”
Full GB line-up:
Aqeel Ahmed, 49kgs, Scotland, Kier Hardie
Galal Yafai, 52kgs, England, Birmingham City
Peter McGrail, 56kgs, England, Everton Red Triangle
Calum French, 60kgs, England, Birtley ABC
Luke McCormack, 64kgs, England, Birtley ABC
Pat McCormack, 69kgs, England, Birtley ABC
Mark Dickinson, 75kgs, England, Birtley ABC
Benjamin Whittaker, 81kgs, England, Firewalker ABC
Cheavon Clarke, 91kgs, England, Gravesham ABC
Frazer Clarke, 91&kgs, England, Burton ABC
Rosie Eccles, 69kgs, Wales, Pontypool Boxing Club, Pontypool
Lauren Price, 75kgs, Wales, Pontypool Boxing Club, Pontypool