Boxing: Britain's best-prepared squad out to punch above their weight

Fired-up fighters look in good shape to secure Team GB's best medal haul at an Olympics

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In 2008, British boxers had their best Olympics since 1956 and since that tournament more than 200 hopefuls have been part of a dreaming team of potential Olympians inside the sport's centre of excellence in Sheffield.

This is the first Olympics that the British boxers have taken part in having been inside a system for a full Olympic cycle; it was not that many years ago that our best travelled out to distant Games having spent a few cramped weekends at the faded Crystal Palace Sports Centre, a structure that resembles those grim facilities in places like Kiev from the Sixties.

After 200 weeks of training camps and over a hundred international events, the fighters have been reduced, after a total of three Olympic qualifiers, to just 10 from a maximum of 13. It is the best-prepared British boxing squad to ever attend an Olympics; the problem is that so are the Russians, the Ukrainians and the 30-year darlings of the Games, the Cubans. There is also a growing feeling that it is time for the unknown 12-strong American team to find form; their medal haul at the last three Games is inferior to Britain's.

However, it has not been an easy passage from the last bell in Beijing to the first bell in east London, which takes place at the gloriously adapted ExCeL Centre.

Since James DeGale took gold at middleweight in Beijing and Tony Jeffries and David Price won bronzes at light-heavyweight and super-heavyweight respectively, four different coaches have been in charge of the London team and all eight Beijing boxers have turned professional and with a variety of success, it has to be said.

"It's not been as simple as some have suggested and winning medals will not be as straightforward as people think," said Robert McCracken, who took over a fractured system after the boxers returned from the World Championships in Milan in 2009 without a medal; they had won gold and two bronzes the year before Beijing at the same event.

Several of the team here in London were not even part of McCracken's early squads and fighters came and left at an alarming rate, but the stoic Brummie had a vision; in 2010 at the Commonwealth Games, 12 members of McCracken's team went but only four are in London, and 12 also went to the European Championships in Moscow and only three are in the team now. It has been a relentless three years of mixing and matching and most importantly sending the squads to major events. McCracken had serious dilemmas at about six weights, which is, he admitted two years ago, a great problem to have.

So for the first time in Olympic boxing history the British boxers start as favourites or joint favourites in as many as six of the weights. Boxers like Andrew Selby at flyweight has a gold and two bronzes from the European Championships and a silver from last year's World Championships in Baku. To put that haul into perspective it is worth noting that British boxers went from 1961 until 2008 between gold medals at the European Championships, which take place every two years. It was the same at the World Championships, also every two years, and between their inception in 1974 and 2007 only one British boxer had reached a final and that was David Haye in 2001. In Baku last year, three of McCracken's boys made the finals and all three – Selby, Luke Campbell and Anthony Joshua – lost narrow points decisions.

This is, of course, the first time that women will be part of the Olympic boxing programme and it is not much of a stretch to hope for two medals. Nicola Adams at flyweight, Natasha Jonas at lightweight and Savannah Marshall at middleweight have been collecting medals at major international events for four years. They have six world championships medals including a recent gold for Marshall and four European medals, including a gold for Adams last year. However, Jonas has a diabolical draw and will have to go through leading American Queen Underwood and the world's best female fighter Katie Taylor, from Ireland, just to win a medal.

The boxers start on the first day, fight every day and hopefully will be left standing when it comes to the finals. It seems like an obscene hope to even dream of more than one British finalist, but there could be four or even five. Truly amazing stuff.

Starter for ten: GB's pack of pugilists

MEN: Flyweight

Andrew Selby (Splott)

Age 23; World ranking 1; Hometown Barry.

Selby has won gold at the European Championships, the first Welshman in 86 years, and silver at the World Championships. He is a natural, fluid fighter. Gold or silver

Bantamweight

Luke Campbell (St.Paul's) 24; WR 3; Hull

Campbell won gold at the European Championships in 2008, the first Briton since Frankie Taylor in 1961. He struggled for a couple of years until making the place his last year. Gold or silver.

Lightweight

Josh Taylor (Lochend)

21; WR None; Prestonpans, East Lothian

Taylor dropped weights to make the squad, something that is only possible because of the experts that live with the boxers in Sheffield and offer dietary advice. He had won a Commonwealth silver in Delhi and admits he is an outsider.

Light-welterweight

Tommy Stalker (Salisbury)

28; WR 1; Liverpool

Stalker started boxing late to turn his life around; it worked. He is the GB boxing captain and has won medals at four major events. "I have been living this Olympic dream for 10 years – it's not a dream now." Gold or silver.

Welterweight

Fred Evans (St.Josephs)

21; WR 2; Cardiff

Evans was one of five boxers in with a shot at the London team but when he won the European Championships last year became the leading contender. Was a spectator as a junior athlete in Beijing. Could surprise. Bronze as minimum.

Middleweight

Anthony Ogogo (Triple A)

23; WR None; Lowestoft.

Ogogo was in and out of the squad and was a late call-up for the last qualifier event. "I thought that it was all over." His shoulder injuries and indifferent form now seem like a distant memory. He starts as a heavy underdog in a brilliant line-up of middleweights. The same weight and outside hope that James DeGale had in Beijing.

Super-heavyweight

Anthony Joshua (Finchley)

23; WR 3; London.

Joshua was not part of the London plan 12 months ago but a silver medal at the World Championships in Baku changed the landscape dramatically. He beat current Olympic champion, Roberto Cammarelle, on his way to the final. Under tremendous pressure but has remained calm. Gold or silver.

WOMEN: Flyweight

Nicola Adams (Haringey Police and Community)

29; WR 2; Leeds.

Adams has been the pioneer for women's boxing in Britain having won a silver medal four years ago at the World Championships. A former brickie, painter and plasterer she is one of the best in the world. Her battle with world champion Ren Can, from China, will likely continue in the final. Gold or silver.

Lightweight

Natasha Jonas (Rotunda)

28; WR 7; Liverpool.

Jonas was part of a difficult-to-split trio at lightweight, but emerged as the number one with bronze medals at the last European and World Championships. She operates at a weight dominated by the sublime Katie Taylor from Ireland. She knew it was all about the draw and that was unkind to her yesterday.

Middleweight

Savannah Marshall (Hartlepool Headland)

21. WR 2. Hartlepool

Marshall is the quietest member of the squad, known as the Silent Assassin, and recently won gold at the World Championships in China; she won silver two years ago. She is not a natural middleweight but she has no other option because there are only three female weights. Gold or silver.

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