Respected UK trainer Rob McCracken has discussed the ongoing situation regarding Team GB boxers participating in the qualifying rounds for Tokyo 2020.
The tournament has been called off for one year due to the coronavirus crisis with only two British fighters guaranteed places on the plane.
In an exclusive interview with GB Boxing, the Performance Director reflected on recent events and talked about how the organization is continuing to support the boxers and keep them on track to compete at the Olympic Games in Tokyo which are now scheduled to take place in 2021.
What are your feelings when you look back on the postponement of the Olympic qualifier in London?
“It is disappointing that the majority of boxers did not get the opportunity to qualify as they had worked very hard and were looking forward to boxing at home, however the current situation is more important than sport and people’s health and safety has to come first. The event could not have continued so we just have to deal with the current situation and look to the future.”
Of those that boxed, how did you feel the team performed at the Boxing Road to Tokyo qualifying event in London?
“Although it only lasted three days, there were a lot of positives at the event and to qualify two boxers (Galal Yafai and Peter McGrail) was fantastic. Galal and Peter boxed really well and to know that we have two boxers already qualified for the Olympics is great for the team.
“Of the rest of the boxers that got to compete there were a number of excellent performances and they have put themselves in with a good chance of progressing when the qualifier re-starts.
“Caroline Dubois looked good in her first bout as a senior and Charley Davison was excellent in defeating a Commonwealth Games silver medallist. Lewis Richardson also performed very well in his opening contest. It was just a shame that Rosie Eccles got edged out in her bout as I felt the decision could have gone either way.”
How was the mood in the team given that two boxers had qualified but that many of the team did not get the chance to box?
“The team was understandably disappointed as we had worked very hard and prepared well so it’s a shame that a lot of the boxers did not even get in the ring.
“They are a very resilient group and, even though boxing is an individual sport, there is a great team spirit at GB Boxing so all of the boxers were pleased to see Galal and Peter qualify. When the boxers see their teammates do well it inspires them and creates belief that they can do the same.”
How did the boxers feel when they learnt the Olympics had been postponed?
“It is a blow as they have worked a long time to get to this point and to have to wait for another year is disappointing. There is nothing we can do about it though as it is out of our control so we just have to accept it, move on and try to take the positives. The most important thing right now is that people are safe and healthy. The boxers have all got exciting futures so they need to focus on the positives and look forward.”
How has GB Boxing and the world class programme adapted to the lockdown and the restrictions resulting from the Coronavirus situation?
“Everyone has been brilliant. The coaches and support staff moved very quickly to put things in place and the boxers have adapted well. We have provided the boxers with kit and equipment to train at home and all of them have been given individualised training programmes that reflect the kind of work they would do in a normal week in camp, including running, strength and conditioning, boxing sessions and technical work.
“The coaches and I are speaking regularly to all of the boxers and we’ve started to do some individual coaching sessions by video link.
“The sport science and medical team are continuing to work with the boxers and help with a range of things like injury prevention, rehabilitation and nutrition. Everyone is communicating well and, when needed, the physios and the medical team are doing consultations via Zoom calls.
“It’s been a fantastic team effort by everyone. The coaches and support staff have done a great job in helping to create an environment that enables the boxers to continue as best they can in very difficult circumstances.”
How are you supporting the boxers and keeping them motivated?
“We know this is a difficult time for everyone and that includes our boxers. So as well as giving them the means to be able to continue to train, we have put a lot of support in place to help them in terms of their mental health and keeping them connected, busy and stimulated.
“Our performance analysis team have been sending them clips so that they can work on technical development and opponent analysis. Our psychologist and our performance lifestyle advisor are speaking to all of the boxers and the coaches and I are in regular contact so they know we are there to support them.
“From a social point of view, they already connected via WhatsApp groups and we have also started weekly Zoom calls with all of the squads which have gone down well and made sure the boxers continue to feel connected as a group. Social media has also been a help and our communications team have been getting the boxers involved in making some films for GB Boxing’s channels.
“Some of the boxers and support staff have even started a chess league so there are lots of activities going on to try and keep the boxers busy and ensure that everyone in the world class programme feels connected as a group, even though we are operating in isolation.”
Do you have any fears that the extra year will be too long to wait for some boxers and that you might lose them to the professional ranks?
“We are very aware of this situation which is why I have spent a lot of time since the qualifier talking to the boxers. It’s completely understandable that some of them needed some time to adjust to the situation, because it was a lot to take in, and having spoken to all of the senior boxers a number of times over the last few weeks I have been reassured by what they have said.
“Our boxers have spent a lot of years working towards the goal of going to the Olympic Games and I am hopeful that when sport does re-start, it will continue to be their immediate priority.”
What impact do you think the delay will have on our medal hopes and the potential success of GB Boxing at the Olympic Games in Tokyo?
“We are a few weeks into this situation now and, whilst it is far from ideal, I have come to realise that we all have to try and take the positives from it.
“Our boxers and coaches work incredibly hard and are away from home a lot of the time, so this is an opportunity for them to re-energize and spend some time with their families, who they do not see too much of in normal circumstances.
“From a performance point of view, having an extra year to prepare for the Olympics is good news for a lot of our boxers. It is another 12 months of being able to develop and work with the coaches so that is bound to benefit them.
“I was really pleased with a conversation I had with one of our leading boxers a couple of days ago. He was disappointed that the Olympics had been postponed but it was clear he had accepted it and he just said to me ‘imagine how much better I will be in 12 months? It’s going to give me an even better chance of winning a medal next year’.
“It was clear that he has got his head around the situation and was thinking that it gives him even more time to get better and improve. I think that’s how everyone at GB Boxing needs to look at it. We have to try and focus on the positives.”