THIS was not the plan. Pat McCormack should have qualified for the Olympics by now. He should be in the final of weeks of preparation for the Tokyo Games. He should be one of the leading contenders for a medal. But instead everything has changed. The coronavirus pandemic, that brought the London qualification event to an end before Pat even got the chance to box, has pushed the Games back a year. And so all McCormack’s plans had to be shelved.
He’d been getting tremendous results, winning the European Games and a World silver medal last year. But he felt in better condition than ever by the time he got to the Copper Box in London for the soon-to-be cancelled event. “I made sure I’d done everything right so I was feeling on fire,” McCormack said. “I think the team was all on fire, because it was the Olympic qualifier, all the boxers were getting behind each other. Everyone was shouting for each other… Being at home as well, with home advantage, we would have shone out there.”
It was not to be. Pat and the rest of the team will have to regroup. “I was buzzing for Peter [McGrail] and Galal [Yafai] but it was annoying for me seeing they’re qualified, they don’t have to worry any more. They can sort of relax,” he reflected. “It is what it is. Not much to do really [in lockdown]. It’s a good time to reset and have a good rest and give your mind a rest and make sure that everyone’s ready to get straight back into it.”
The GB gym in Sheffield has only just reopened doors for smaller than usual groups of athletes. The Classified as elite athletes, GB boxers don’t have the same restrictions that currently constrain other amateur boxers in the UK. From June 22, under strict protocols at the English Institute of Sport, they have been able to do pads with a coach in personal protective equipment and if the boxer is wearing a facemask. Designated groups of boxers there are also permitted to spar.
But the road back to competition will be long and uncertain for them all. With the qualifiers to be confirmed, the Olympics are scheduled for July 2021. McCormack himself was “gutted” at that news. He’d been hoping they might take place sooner.
“We’re not getting any younger,” he said. “I think it would have been the perfect time to go pro after these Olympics. I would have been ready. I would have been physically ready and mentally ready.”
But there is a positive. He has just turned 25 and points out, “The average Olympic gold medallist in the boxing is 25. Perfect age.”
“The only opportunity we’ve got is to qualify the Olympics and then the Olympics,” he continued. “If you win the Olympics you’re already a household name. It did cross my mind to turn pro. But I’ve waited this long, I’m not going to fall at the last hurdle. A little set back. I was just thinking how much better I’ll be in a year. All them other fighters are getting older. That Russian [Andrey Zamkovoy who beat McCormack in the World championship final] will be 33, 34, so I’ll be ready to take them out.”
During lockdown Pat’s been training in his garage at home, with weights and a hanging bag. But it’s still not the same as a gym environment. “I can do everything really but it’s just hard doing it every day in the garage. I like going to the gym, having a bit of craic with the lads. That’s what I miss the most,” he said. “When you go away with the GB, you’re in the ring by yourself but the team’s there to support you all the way. You’re all fighting. You’re all going through the same thing. You’re all supporting each other.”
He remains focused on the same goal. This disruption is “like a reset button,” he notes, “mentally and physically like a reset button.”
“It’s been a long time coming,” he adds of the Olympics, “a long time coming.” The Games however are still just that little bit further away.