Nicola Adams: ‘It’s the pretty ones you have to watch out for’

Nicola Adams, one of the faces of London 2012, tells  Robin Scott-Elliot about her plans to win European, world and Commonwealth titles... as well as the most dangerous opponents in the ring

Every morning Nicola Adams tumbles out of bed in Sheffield and heads for the scales. Every morning she climbs onto the scales knowing she has to stop them within five per cent of her fighting weight: tip them too far and her future as one of Britain’s best boxers will be called into question.

“You have to be at your fighting weight every day or you will be in trouble,” says Adams and laughs. Nicola Adams laughs a lot, although probably not first thing in the morning when her numbers are coming up.

Failure to meet the required weight will bring a warning, then disciplinary action, with the final threat of expulsion from the British team. It applies across the board: there are no short cuts for history makers. “I watch [my weight] closely,” says Adams. “I box at 51 kilos and am not allowed to be more than 53.6 kilos at any time.”

It is a regime she followed for four years up to the London Olympics and her historic first women’s boxing gold, and has signed up for again through to the Rio Games. Next year provides a major staging post, and the chance for Adams to earn another entry in the sport’s roll of honour. It is a year of three peaks: she wants to become a world, Commonwealth and European champion in the space of a few months. Adams has not won a world title – there are three silvers in the cupboard – and no woman has won a boxing gold at the Commonwealths as the sport makes its debut.

“It’s really exciting,” she says. “It’s going to be the first time for female boxing as well so there’s another chance to make history.”

Making history remains a key motivation, while the chance to fight in front of another large and noisy crowd is another reason to look forward to Glasgow. Indications are that ticket sales will be good.

“It was hard to block out the noise during the Games,” says Adams. “I was really aware of that but I used it to my advantage – when I threw a punch they were cheering, so I threw more. It was exciting. I always try to have fun. Even in my walk up to the ring I was smiling, I was happy. My coach said to me when I first started that it is all about enjoying it, no matter that there is a lot at stake and it is serious but you still have to enjoy your sport because it is over so quickly.”

It is little wonder that the organisers of Glasgow 2014 have signed her up as an ambassador – this is a woman who loves what she does and whose enthusiasm for sport and the power of sport in transforming lives for the better bubbles from her. Her recruitment is also indicative of the sporting stature she now holds. The other female ambassadors are Jessica Ennis-Hill and Rebecca Adlington. This is the level at which Adams stands, a sporting role model. It is down to what she did in London that the number of women boxing has since more than doubled, a rare leap forward in otherwise sluggish post-Games participation figures.

“One girl said when I won my gold that was what inspired her to do boxing. She was only 12 and that is the same age I was when I first started,” she says. “It is something I have taken in my stride because it was stuff I was doing anyway, visiting schools, seeing kids and doing a bit of training with them. It has always felt natural. I am president of Us Girls, a charity that tries to get girls from disadvantaged areas into sport. We get girls doing loads of different sports, not just boxing.”

The drop off in girls playing sport as they spill into their teens is one of the starkest areas of participation. Its consequences, as with poor sporting participation across any section of society, has a wider impact. “What we are  trying to do is show the girls that they can get involved in sport,” says Adams. “Maybe it is down to there not having been enough female sport role models – them being on TV as well. It is only now that it has picked up, that 50 per cent increase in female boxing  shows that.

“Just imagine if women’s sport was on the TV all the time – how many more female athletes we would have? [Media coverage] has got a lot better. [Coverage of] women’s sport has been increasing, we had women’s football on and the athletics as well. I think things are improving. We have to keep the momentum going.”

Adams, who turned 30 last year, has been fighting for 18 years and remains absorbed in the sport and fascinated by it, still turning back to the tapes she used to sit and watch with her father at home in Leeds during her childhood. She grew up on old footage of the Sugar Rays, Leonard and Robinson, and Muhammad Ali.

“Yeah, yeah,” she says. “Ali, Sugar Ray Robinson, he was absolutely superb. He was a great, great boxer – so good, probably even more so than Ali really. I like to sit and watch the technique, how they throw the shots. There is so much to learn from boxing, you can never have learnt everything; anybody who says they know it all is lying. You can’t – there is always something new to learn. You pick up things, watch styles of other boxers and think, ‘yeah, I could use that’. [Women boxers] tend not to focus as much on power and concentrate more on the skill side.”

Can Adams remember the first time she was hit in the ring, really hit? “No, not really – because I’m quite quick,” she says, and follows her statement with a self-effacing laugh. “I don’t like getting hit! I’m quite quick, quite defensive and evasive. I’ve never had a broken nose, bust lip. That’s what it’s all about. I would be more wary of boxing a pretty boxer than I would one that looks like they have been bashed up a bit because the pretty boxer obviously doesn’t get hit – so that means they must be quite good! It’s like Muhammad Ali – ‘I’m so pretty, I’m so pretty’.” And Adams laughs again.

One million tickets for the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games are on sale now; prices start at £15. The four-week application phase is open until Monday 16 September. Visit www.glasgow2014.com/tickets

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