THE women’s European championships begin in Madrid, Spain on Thursday (August 22) and conclude on September 1. It’s unusual to have the event following so soon after the European Games. But then these are unusual times in amateur boxing. Even at this late stage in the Olympic cycle, the weights that will be contested next year have only recently been settled, and the precise dates for the Tokyo 2020 qualification events are yet to be confirmed. But the path has at least become clear. For female boxers the Olympic weights are 51kgs, 57kgs, 60kgs, 69kgs and 75kgs and the road to Tokyo for British boxers can start with this major championship.
The boxers looking to stake their claims at the Olympic weights for GB will be flyweight Tori Ellis Willetts, featherweight Karris Artingstall, lightweight Paige Murney, welterweights Sandy Ryan and Rosie Eccles, going for England and Wales respectively, and middleweight Kerry Davis. Rounding out the British representation will be Demi Jade Rezstan, who boxes for England at 48kgs, not an Olympic division.
Ryan will be hoping to steal a march on Eccles, who qualified for the European Games in Minsk but did not medal. England’s Ryan, the reigning Commonwealth Games gold medallist, is one of the most experienced boxers GB will have in Spain. “We both want the same thing. She’s my rival,” Sandy said of the Welsh welter. “I don’t really look to what she’s doing. I already beat her two times in the past. I feel like this is my time. I’m not going to let anyone take my spot… But there’s no hate. We’re both on the same journey, we both want the same thing. You can’t hate her for that. I just know what I want.”
She is though determined to make her mark. “I’ve not been as active this year due to injury. I’ve only done one tournament this year. It’s about the Europeans and the Worlds, doing well in them and then next year we’ve got the qualifiers. It’s all looking good for me at the minute, I’ve just got to do well and do what I’ve got to do,” she told Boxing News. “What matters is these majors at the end of the year and next year. It doesn’t really affect where I am, I’ve been to one tournament this year and had three fights and won gold [at] the Box Am tournament in Spain. I’m in winning form at the minute. It’s about getting to these tournaments.”
The Olympics looming in the comparatively near future of course concentrates the mind. “I just say to myself every day counts. Every day what I’m doing in the gym, every day what I’m doing in life, It all counts. I’m just going to make sure I don’t let it slip,” she says.
There are new comers on this team. Ebonie Jones and Natasha Gale, previous incumbents for England at 51 and 75kgs, have left the GB programme, giving a chance to Ellis Willetts and Davis. Heart of Portsmouth’s Davis only joined the GB squad in October. These Europeans will be her first international with the team. “I haven’t been away with GB yet, so this is my first competition and it’s a major,” she said. “I think the best thing is that no one knows me yet. Because I haven’t been to any minor tournaments no one’s really seen me so they don’t know what to expect.”
Davis is labouring in the shadow of the illustrious Lauren Price. The Welsh middleweight won an excellent gold medal at the European Games but won’t attend these championships so she can focus on the Worlds later this year. “Lauren has been very active in 2019 and only recently returned to full training following a short break after boxing three times on the way to winning gold at the European Games in June,” performance director Rob McCracken explained. “The coaches and I discussed the schedule for the remainder of the year with her and we all agreed that the best approach is for Lauren to miss this competition and have a longer training camp that will enable her to focus her preparations on the World Championships in October.”
Davis might be an understudy at present but she is realistic in her aims, eager to learn now and then focus on the next Olympics. “Just get as much experience in as I can from now until these Olympics. Then throughout the next cycle, build my profile, get better and then hopefully go to the next Olympics after these ones,” she said.
Training, sparring and competing with an elite boxer like Price can only improve her. “It’s amazing. It’s good for me because she’s one of the best around and for me to be able to spar her week in, week out is good experience for me,” Davis reflects. “It’s competitive. It’s respectful as well.”
This tournament will be the chance for the new boxers on the squad, like Davis, to try to make an impression. The women’s sport is developing at a brisk pace and as the talent pool deepens tough competitions like the Europeans will only get harder.
“It just shows how much the sport’s growing for women and it is really, really good,” Sandy Ryan notes. “There are so many more girls about now, even on the GB squad, so many more girls, and it’s good for us. “There are some top girls [in Europe]. I’ve got to bring my A game. I’ve got to be on it on the day. I’ll get the win.”