New generation of Team GB boxers 'owe everything' to Audley Harrison


Click to follow
The Independent Online

Fraudley, Audrey, Audinary, A-Farce. Audley Harrison has garnered more insults than titles and, 12 years on from his heroic triumph at the ­Olympics, the man with the grand plan to go on to become king of the professional ring is now reduced to providing fodder for younger pretenders.

Yet as Great Britain’s Olympic boxing challenge bids to gather momentum at the ExCel Arena tonight, when bantamweight Luke Campbell and super-heavyweight Anthony Joshua climb through the ropes, a timely call has gone out to give Harrison proper respect for his role in inspiring a new generation of fighters.

Tony Jeffries was a member of the triumphant British boxing team in Beijing that struck gold through James DeGale and brought home bronze medals for himself and David Price.

“We had the best Games a British boxing team have ever had,” said the 27-year-old light-heavyweight, unbeaten in 10 bouts since turning pro.

“But it really would not surprise me if the 2012 team get more medals than we did.

“And the fact our boxers can go into these Games with so much confidence has a lot to do with a man who gets plenty of stick in boxing circles.

“It is thanks to Audley that Pricey, me, and the 2012 generation of boxers were able to get such good support for the toughest two weeks of our sporting lives.”

More than £9million has been invested in amateur boxing in the lead-up to London and performance director Robert McCracken said: “Everything is taken care of for the boxers. They have no problems in being prepared. As long as that funding is about, we will be up there with the best.”

And it was Harrison — at the age of 40, he next challenges 29-year-old unbeaten Price for the British heavyweight title in Liverpool on 13 October — who opened the cash tap for McCracken’s squad of seven men and three women.

Jeffries said: “When he won his gold, amateur boxing got a load of funding. Without it I really don’t know where British amateur boxing would be right now.”

Campbell, who in 2008 became the first Briton for 47 years to take a European amateur title, credits Harrison’s success in Sydney as the reason he took up the sport.

He said: “I remember watching Audley on the television with my dad. I loved it when I saw him win his medal and I started boxing properly after that. At first I just wanted a couple of trophies to put in a cabinet. But it got to the stage when I was the best young boxer in Britain, and so on. Now it is all about winning a gold medal.”

Having received a bye through to the round of 16, the 24-year-old goes in against Italy’s Jahyn Vittorio Parrinello, 28, for a place in the ­quarter-finals.

London-based Joshua, the world championship silver medallist who is in Harrison’s former super-heavyweight category, arguably has the harder task against fellow 22-year-old Erislandy Savon Cotilla — the Cuban is the nephew of three-times Olympic champion Felix Savon.

If Joshua’s contest, scheduled to start at 11.15pm, is on too late then try tuning in to something different. When else will you get the chance to watch a women’s handball game between Spain and Denmark (7.30pm), or a water polo match between the women of Italy and Russia, starting at 7.40pm?