The soap star looking to clean up in the ring


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The Independent Online

If it should happen, God forbid, that the Olympic cauldron fails here tomorrow night, not the worst solution might be its replacement by the perpetual grin of Nicola Adams. It is one that over the years has blazed impressively enough in the background of soap operas like Coronation Street and Emmerdale, but that was before she stood on the brink of history.

Now, as she considers the strong possibility of becoming Britain's first woman to win an Olympic boxing gold medal, she glows.

She lights up the darkest corner of the athletes' village but, much more significantly, she shines a light on what not so long ago was a most ferocious, and obdurate, example of male chauvinism.

Women boxers were, infinitely more so than their sisters who played football or rugby, an offence against nature.

When they were finally given the green light to compete according to the basic rules of the Marquess of Queensberry, one respected commentator said that young, ill-advised girls were about to be wheeled in for th vicarious pleasure of "yobbos".

A boxing promoter put it even more bluntly. The girls, he suggested, would be doing no more than titillating the "sexual appetites" of male spectators.

The 29-year-old Adams was in her early teens at the time – and utterly unaffected by the tide of male prejudice. But then she has also had to win many battles. She worked at as many as eight different jobs, including the building trade, before gaining the Lottery fund support that has finally carried her to within touching distance of Olympic gold.

The greatest threats to her come from China's double world champion Ren Cancan and the experienced Russian Elena Savelyeva, but she believes that her victory over the former earlier this year has given her a vital new level of confidence.

"I feel very close to my dream," she was saying yesterday, "and that is the happiest you can be in life. I would never let go of the idea that I could become a boxer at international standard – and I kept believing it when there was boxing on the television and my father told me to sit down when I got so excited I was bouncing around."

Adams' father had an educated appreciation of the old game and his daughter got to see on the television screen some of the legendary fighters who were performing before she was born.

Sugar Ray Leonard was one favourite, along with the original Sugarman, Ray Robinson, but there was no serious challenger to Muhammad Ali. .

"It is because of him that I'm here today," she declares. "I don't believe there has been anyone like him in all of sport. He had so much charisma inside and out of the ring. He had his flashy style, his shuffle – I really think he transcended the sport of boxing. People who didn't even watch boxing knew who Muhammad Ali was. I thought that was so great and it made me want to go into the ring and make people roar. It was a great thing he did and now I just want to follow him. I want to get the Olympic medal."

She says it with such enthusiasm, even joy, that it is hard to believe that there were times when her ambitions could scarcely have been more brittle. "People said I was wasting my time, but I never believed that. I knew that I was at home in a boxing ring, and it was always going to take a lot to stop me, but then when you are lying in bed for three months with a back injury, you sometimes wonder if you have reached the end of it."

Adams has become the centrepiece of a British team which some believe can make an impressive impact through men like captain Tom Stalker and the polished Yorkshire bantamweight Luke Campbell.

"She is very talented," says the 25-year-old Campbell, "but what has impressed all of us is that she has just made herself part of the team. There are three women in the team but there is absolutely no difference in the way we are approaching things. Naturally, everybody wants to enjoy the Olympic experience but not at the cost of medals."

The team manager Matthew Holt echoes the belief in a team that has carried itself beyond the jealousies that can come with unevenly distributed fame – and certainly that old theory that some still hold that women have no right to step into the ring.

"There is enough glory for everyone at this level of our sport," says Holt. It is an impressive sentiment – and one beyond challenge after feeling the extraordinary warmth of a boxing woman's smile.