POSTED: March 30th 2010
JOHN GOODBODY: How London 2012 will pack historic punch with women's boxing
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LONDON, Mar 16: The last Olympic bastion will be conquered in 2012, when women's boxing will be held at the Games for the first time.
Under two presidents of the International Olympic Committee, Juan Antonio Samaranch and Dr Jacques Rogge, women have held an increasingly prominent role in the Olympic Movement, both in administration and in levelling up the number of sports and events in which both sexes could participate.
When Samaranch was elected president in 1980, he determined to expand the role of females. The following year, the first woman, Pirjo Haggman of Finland, was elected to IOC membership, to be followed by several others.
Women's judo was a demonstration sport in 1988 and a medal sport four years later; female wrestling arrived in 2004; in athletics, the pole vault, previously regarded as an oddity for women, came of age in Sydney in 2000, when the battle between 'the chicks on sticks', American Stacy Dragila and Tatiana Grigorieva of Australia, who had both posed nude for publications, was one of the highlights of the Games.
Now it is an established event, with the current Olympic champion, Yelena Isinbayeva, an international figure.
Boxing has had a more difficult passage. At one stage, even the men's competition was under threat because of safety and morality concerns: should the Olympic Movement be promoting an activity in which the object is to inflict physical damage on an opponent?
Expediency was victorious, partly because boxing remains immensely popular. Now it is the turn of the women, whose admission to 2012 was ratified last August.
The AIBA, the international governing body, had carefully prepared the way by staging women's world championships and several countries have now established training programmes in place.
In Britain Amanda Coulson, 27, for many years the flag bearer of women's boxing in the United Kingdom, says: “The sport has evolved dramatically. You will always get the negatives, people saying: 'Women shouldn't box,' or: 'Women can't box,' or: 'Handbags at 10 paces.' But it is completely different from 10 years ago. Then we only had a few boxers. Now the number of registered boxers must be getting up to four figures."
There will be three weight categories in 2012: flyweight (below 51 kilos), lightweight (below 60 kilos) and middleweight (below 75 kilos). Britain has an Olympic full-time training squad of seven competitors.
As so often when a new event is introduced to the Games, success can be achieved if resources are concentrated quickly on a few leading athletes before many other countries get themselves organised. China is one nation that has already begin to put resources into the sport so as to add to its Olympic medal total.
However, Britain, the most successful nation in the European Union Championships last year, has the pedigree and knowledge in the men's sport, a superb training facility in Sheffield and home advantage in 2012. And most important of all, women boxers are gradually becoming accepted.
As Rob McCracken, the performance director, says: “After a while, people forget whether they are men or women. They are both training for boxing, just the same."
** JOHN GOODBODY covered the 2008 Olympics for The Sunday Times, his 11th successive Summer Games and is the author of the audio book A History of the Olympics, read by Barry Davies, the BBC commentator. He was Sports News Correspondent of The Times 1986-2007, for whom he received journalistic awards in all three decades on the paper, including Sports Reporter of The Year in 2001.
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