Irish women boxers get the Katie Taylor factor in Korea
Walsh, Lambe and Grace are making the best of their time in Asia to get match fit for the Women’s World Championship
Joanna Lambe and Michaela Walsh: no longer a case of being on Taylor’s undercard. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho
On the bus on the way back to the hotel in Jeju City last night Dutch middleweight Fontijn Nouchka told a story of how in 2012 she was given the opportunity to go to another country for 10 weeks to improve her boxing. She chose Ireland.
Nouchka went to the National Stadium and travelled to the Irish boxing training camp in the Curragh to do the muddy water and the tractor tyres, the whole nine yards. Now she is ranked inside the top 10 in the world. Ireland, she says, is the best.
For the past two weeks in Korea Joanna Lambe, Clare Grace and Michaela Walsh have been engaged in the kind of tuition Fontijn was speaking of. There is the Katie Taylor factor, her brand of monastic denial and the wall-eyed focus that she says makes her anti-social and will disturb her sleep until the tournament is over.
But the three have also had an opportunity to live the lives of professional athletes for that time and lock into the behaviour and attitude of a player, who has done it for 10 years, the player who has done it all.
Walsh (54kg) and Taylor (60kg) begin their World Championships tomorrow, Grace (69kg) and Lambe (57kg) this morning. The Belfast bantamweight Walsh, full of vim, is a wide-eyed delivery system for boxing patter in the rat-a-tat-tat style. Much of the upbeat energy is taken from her close run in the Commonwealth final against Nicola Adams, which the British Olympic gold medallist narrowly won.
‘Going for gold’
“I prepared right for the competition and I think I have the ability. I just have to go out and perform and bring it home. I’ve got a lot of experience this year having a run in the Europeans and the Commonwealth so this has been one of my best years.”
Unable to competeScotlandCeire Smith
“Ceire wasn’t able to compete because she had to get an operation. The way it is, is the way it is and that’s 54kg. I’m happy doing any weight,”she says. “The girls who beat me in the Europeans, the Russian girl [Elena Savelyava], she’s number one now I’d love to get another crack at her.”
Walsh first faces Jamaica’s Sarah Joy Rae but both welterweight Grace and featherweight Lambe are in the ring this morning. The talented Grace has proven tournament craft with a nicked European bronze medal earlier this year from almost nothing.
Her language is less flamboyant or stylised than Walsh’s but the DCU student has steely understated drive and ambition with Romania’s Cristina Stancu initially standing in her way. Grace lost in the European Championships to Stacey Copeland, a brawny former footballer, who was physically stronger.
“When I left the competition in Romania I was disappointed not to get into the final,” she says. “This competition I’ll be hoping to do a bit better. The Europeans was my first real senior event so you don’t know how you are going to get on. It was a huge confidence booster, especially coming here. So there’s no reason to fear any country or any boxer.”
“There’s not really going to be any easy contest so it doesn’t really matter much,” she adds. “You have to win. There’s no easy route to get a medal, just work hard and train hard. Different mind sets work for different people. I’m more focused on this first contest rather than bringing home a medal. I’ll move on from there.”
Lambe, who reached the last eight at the European Championships in Bucharest, was beaten by Bulgaria’s eventual silver medallist Svetlana Kamenova. She will remember that bout for desperately pursuing her opponent in the second two rounds and almost having a Eureka moment. Her realisation afterwards was that had she done it from the start she wouldn’t have been vainly chasing a body to hit. The eldest of the Irish crew, hers is a story of a slow-burning love that sparked when, on a whim, she said yes.
Lambe, who lived in England for more than eight years, joined a boxing club in Bournemouth for fitness. It was her and a load of guys, proper boxing training with sparring. She loved it but never competed.
After moving to Carrickmacross, she joined the local club. There were a group of women there including Irish professional Christina McMahon, who was one of the coaches. She never thought about the competition side of boxing, then when asked one day almost thoughtlessly said: “Okay I’ll give this ago.” She was hooked. “In the Europeans I was disappointed to lose, disappointed not to get a medal. It was a dream come true going over there but what I got from that competition was way more,” she says.
“I got a lot of confidence in my own ability and I’m going to take that into this competition. This year we went to Germany and got three good fights there, won two of them and got beaten in one. The girl that beat me was the girl who won the European Championships, the Russian girl.”
The journey to the last eight at the European Championships ended when she was beaten by Bulgaria’s eventual silver medallist Kamenova. She’s mixed with the top players in the ring now and over the past two weeks with Taylor. The common thread is a type of inner peace with the tools available and no real fear. China’s Qiong Lu, she expects will hold the same hard-core attitude.
“I think the girls have enjoyed it because they have been put in a professional programme,” said Pete Taylor this week. “They’ve enjoyed the professional approach. I think they were astonished about the way to prepare for a tournament.
“When I came here the first few days I found a gym and found a little place where we could do individual work. I just found a place away from all of the other countries.”
In other words, the type of place where women’s boxing began in Ireland.