TWELVE men and women from GB Boxing’s Podium Squad will return to training at its gym in Sheffield on Monday 8 June 2020 as part of a phased return to training for the Olympic hopefuls on the world class performance programme (WCPP).
The 12 boxers will be supported by four coaches and sport science staff over a four-day training camp at the English Institute of Sport in Sheffield, which will be conducted under strict social distancing guidelines and follow the Government’s recently published Elite Sport Return to Training Guidance.
The male and female boxers will follow a programme of three sessions per day including morning runs, strength and conditioning and non-contact boxing sessions made-up of bag work and shadow boxing. There will be no sparring or pad sessions with coaches.
It will be the first time the boxers and coaches have been in the GB Boxing gym for nearly three months following the suspension of the Boxing Road to Tokyo Olympic qualifying event in London after three days of competition on 16 March and the subsequent introduction of a countrywide lockdown on 23 March.
Since then the boxers have been working to individualised home training programmes under the supervision of Performance Director, Rob McCracken, and his team who have been delivering coaching sessions by Zoom and continuing to support the boxers throughout the lockdown period.
McCracken said: “The number one priority throughout all this difficult period was to ensure people were safe and well and following the Government advice to protect themselves and their families.
“At the same time we also wanted to ensure we continued to support the boxers and make it as simple as possible for them to maintain a training regime so that when we come out of lockdown they will be in good shape and have used the time wisely.
“All of the boxers have had individualised training programmes and we supplied them with kit and equipment to help them train and stay fit at home.
“The coaches and I have been in regular contact with all of the boxers and the sport science and medical team have continued to provide support.
“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 has enabled the boxers to continue as best they can in very difficult circumstances.
“Being able to return to the GB Boxing gym will be a big step forward for the programme and whilst it will be unusual to have to operate under social distancing guidelines it will be great for the boxers and coaches to work together and not through a screen.
“We have a great team spirit at GB Boxing and I am sure it will give everyone a lift to see each other and be back in our own gym, albeit in very different circumstances to what we are normally used to.”
The return to training has been led and overseen by GB Boxing Chief Executive, Matt Holt, working closely with Performance Director, McCracken.
Holt explained: “In May, the Government published its stage one return to training guidelines for elite sports and we have been working through this to a point where we are now able to allow a limited number of boxers and coaches to come back into the GB Boxing gym under strict social distancing guidelines.
“This has been a big piece of work and we have put a series of measures in place in a number of areas covering hygiene throughout the training and living environment; the provision of medical support, screening and monitoring; a reconfiguring of the boxing gym and the design and content of the boxers’ training programme and how it will be delivered.
“We have also spent a lot of time talking to the boxers to provide them with guidance on this new way of operating and ensuring they are comfortable with it and aware of their responsibilities in terms of hygiene and social distancing in the gym, in their accommodation and when travelling to and from training.
“We will de-brief and review activities at the end of each training camp. Provided things progress successfully we will start to look at how we can move on to stage two of the Government’s return to training guidance which allows for contact and would enable the boxers to step-up their training by re-introducing sparring and pad work with the coaches.”
The group of 12 boxers in Sheffield next week will include the reigning middleweight world champion, Lauren Price, who has been sharing a house in Sheffield with teammate Karriss Artingstall since the start of lockdown as her family at home in Wales included people with underlying health issues and she did not want to put them at risk.
Price said: “I am looking forward to going into camp and getting back into a routine of training three times a day. We are going to have to work around the social distancing guidelines so we will not be able to go flat-out but it will be good to get back into the gym environment and have the coaches there to work with us and get that face-to-face input from them.
“The GB Boxing coaches and staff have been in touch with us throughout lockdown and have prepared us for the fact that returning to the gym will not be the same as usual. They have put loads of work into this and I do not have any concerns about going back. I am looking forward to it.”
On the suspension of the Olympic qualifying event and subsequent lockdown, Price, who is unbeaten since November 2018, added: “I had been in a great run of form and was going into the qualifier in excellent shape. I had been through a really good training camp prior to the event and felt I was mentally and physically well prepared so I was absolutely gutted when I found out the qualifier was being suspended before I had chance to box.
“I was disappointed, but once the seriousness of the situation became clear I realised that the event could not have gone on.
“Then when it was announced that the Olympics was postponed so my attitude was to try and see the positives in the situation. It gives me more time to prepare and means I have another year working with the coaches to develop and improve.
“This has been my mindset during the lockdown and I have been using the time to work on a few things I might not normally get to try as ordinarily I would be preparing for a competition.
“I have also enjoyed having the opportunity to mix-up my training and doing things like going out for a bike ride in the fresh air, rather than just running on the track in the gym, has been good. It’s fortunate that I have been able to share a house with one of my squad mates, so we have been able to keep each other motivated and train together which has been a big help.”
Other members of the returning group include super-heavyweight Frazer Clarke and flyweight Galal Yafai who is one of two boxers in the squad (along with featherweight, Peter McGrail) to have guaranteed a place at Tokyo 2021 after competing in the final session of boxing at the qualifying event in London before it was suspended.
Yafai said: “I am looking forward to getting back. It will be unusual as there are a lot of things that will be different so we are going to have to adapt and get used to it. Hopefully things will go well though and we move on quickly to the next stage and get things a bit more back to normal.
“Although I have been in touch with most of them, I am also looking forward to seeing the boxers and coaches again and being with them in the gym.
“I have trained and stayed in good shape over the lockdown and managing weight is not a problem for me however it will be good to get some structure back. It’s easy to fall into the habit of staying up late watching television at home, but we won’t be able to do that in camp as we have to be up and running at seven o’clock, so that will be good for me.”
On his experience of the qualifying event and lockdown, Yafai added: “It was amazing to qualify for my second Olympics at the London event but to then go straight into lockdown was difficult. I felt pretty flat and it was hard at first but the coaches and staff have been great.
“In the end you have to try and take some of the positives. I like being at home and it has been good to have some time off to rest and relax as we do not get many holidays normally.
“Usually when you are off, you worry that you are losing ground because other people are in the gym working hard, but because this has affected everyone, it means I have been less concerned about it and have been able to enjoy my time at home whilst still being able to tick over fitness wise.”