Olympic rings beckoning for the ladies who punch

Girl power is back as the fastest-growing sport in Britain heads for London 2012

They are coming up to the final round in the fight to get women's boxing into the Olympic Games for 2012 and when the scorecards are collected in Berlin this week it looks certain that the judges from the International Olympic Committee willdeclare girl power the winner.

While it may be a split decision – male chauvinism has not totally been KO-ed – the influence of "referee" Jacques Rogge is likely to clinch it. "The timing is right," says the IOC president, himself a former boxing doctor. "The sport has evolved a lot." It will also complete Rogge's Olympic jigsaw of equality, boxing being the sole single-sex sport left in the Games.

All of which is good news for London 2012, and Britain's boxing belles, who recently returned from the European Union Championships in Bulgaria with a fistful of medals.

Fisticuffs and the fair sex have gone hand in boxing glove for almost two decades now, but it is only recently that Britain has produced several hits among the Misses. There are now around 650 ladies who punch compared to less than 50 five years ago and the Euro medal-winning quintet of Savannah Marshall, Natasha Jonas and Sharon Holford (all gold), Hannah Behanny and Lucy O'Connor (both bronze), plus Nicola Adams, a current world silver medallist, are proof that, whatever some of the sport's traditionalists, such as Amir Khan – "they should stick to tennis" – may think, Britain has become a real fighting force in women's boxing.

The blockbuster movie Million Dollar Baby raised the profile of the sport, but its tragic ending – the would-be champion, played by Hilary Swank, dies on a life-support machine – also raised questions about whether boxing really is the sort of thing you would want your daughter or girlfriend to get up to. Britain's female fighters remain unfazed. "To be honest, I got hurt more when I was playing football," says Jonas, 25, from Liverpool. "We do too much ducking and diving to really get damaged."

There is also a misconception that women boxers are all butch and biceps, or as intimidating out of the ring as Jane Couch, aka the Fleetwood Assassin, who once flattened a bloke in a Blackpool bar who pinched her bum.

Mick Gannon, the England national coach, says: "These girls are boxers but they are also ladies – a little bit girlie in some ways. They can be boisterous at times but then most girls are. I'm really chuffed they've done so well. Women's boxing is now the biggest growth sport in the country."

Technically, claims the former Army Physical Training Instructor, the women are very sound. "They don't have the men's animal aggression or explosive power – not that you would expect them or want them to," says Gannon. "I look upon women's boxing as a form of dance routine with skill and my job is to put a bit of snap into it."

In the Olympics they will box four two-minute rounds. The IOC are looking at a maximum of five weights – it may only be three – and the likelihood is that one of the men's weights will be dropped so as not to increase the overall number of boxing participants.

Most girls come into boxing from other contact sports or "boxercise". In the England squad, there is a laboratory assistant and a former lifeguard. All have to make contributions to their training expenses but a recent ABA camp in Portsmouth was subsidised by the Royal Navy, in which O'Connor, 29, serves as a lieutenant and her husband is a boxing coach.

She is an intelligent, lucid student of the sport. "I took it up to keep fit but for me it is now a way of life. I live it and breathe it. The thing I always get is, 'Oh, you don't look like a boxer'. I think the traditional stigma that has been attached to women's boxing has now gone. People are starting to appreciate that it's a thinking woman's sport. It's not a barbaric duel, more like chess in the ring." She has won 26 of her 32 bouts, including Euro bronze this year and gold in 2008.

Potentially the big hit of 2012 is the unbeaten Savannah Marshall, 18, from Hartlepool, who has stopped almost half of her 18 opponents. Tall and painfully shy, she clearly articulates in the ring and took up boxing "because there's nowt else to do where I come from". The other girls call her The Silent Assassin.

Their icons range from Manny Pacquiao to Laila Ali and Katy Taylor, Ireland's 60kg world champion who is described by Gannon as "a lovely kid but a real handful when the bell goes. She's something special".

Jonas speaks for them all when she says: "The Olympics would be a dream come true but it is as much for the sport and the kids coming through. It will give women's boxing the extra punch it needs."

British Olympic Association

The British Olympic Association (BOA), formed in 1905, are the national Olympic committee for Great Britain and Northern Ireland. They prepare and lead the nation's finest athletes at the summer, winter and youth Olympic Games, and deliver elite-level support services to Britain's Olympic athletes and their national governing bodies. For further information, go to: olympics.org.uk

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

Liverpool v Real Madrid

Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?