Jonas shows being a warrior woman is worth fighting for
00:19 GMT, 12 November 2012
On Sunday August 5 I watched Natasha Jonas make history as the first British female boxer to step into the Olympic ring.
I remember feeling a very strong sense of admiration for what she had achieved and was impressed by the power, speed and technical skill of the sporting contest I was watching. But it also left me feeling churned; unsure if there was any genuine enjoyment in watching a woman getting hit.
So, three months on, I went to Jonas’s gym in Liverpool to try out boxing for myself…
Smiling assassin: Sportsmail's Laura with Natasha Jonas
In my job, I am used to walking into rooms of men and standing out like the proverbial sore thumb. Jonas’s gym was no different: Natasha Jonas is the only female name on the vests and plaques that decorate the walls and she jokingly referred to the ladies’ changing room as ‘mine’ because, for so long, she was the only one to use it.
This has changed now, given the success of women’s boxing at London 2012, but Jonas and I were the only women as a group of men grunted and sweated their way through a gruelling circuit of exercises using tyres, weights and ropes. It could not have been a more overtly masculine environment, yet it was far from intimidating. Instead, the over-riding feeling was of support.
Jonas trains in her weight, rather than gender, when the British squad meet up in Sheffield, and it felt no different here: they are proud not of their girl, but of their boxer. ‘You think everyone in a boxing gym will be snarling,’ says Jonas, ‘but we’re a proper little family.
‘Everyone still has a laugh but it helped me push myself.’
Packing a punch: Jonas trains at her gym in Liverpool
The atmosphere is welcoming and relaxed, but it changes when Jonas starts to punch, making an impressive rasping noise as she exhales. I am struck by her drive, power and concentration – and the switch from the smiley, self-deprecating 28-year-old woman who has been gently taking the mickey out of my failure even to put my gloves on properly.
Jonas admits her desire and will to win made the Olympics a ‘stressful’ time. She made history – something she wants to do again at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in 2014 – but she was beaten by eventual lightweight champion Katie Taylor of Ireland. It was a thrilling fight in an incredible atmosphere that gave the sport the exposure it merited, but that still feels like scant consolation.
‘At the time it was disappointing but I think, in boxing, you are always going to get good and bad draws,’ she says. ‘I think I had a good draw to qualify for the Games, so I can’t complain. I have calmed down.
‘Afterwards I felt a bit of everything: anger, frustration, disappointment.
‘If I had gone in with the attitude of
having nothing to lose then I don’t think it would have hit me so badly.
But I went there to win. It wasn’t being delusional. Everyone can be
beaten in the ring. If I can compete with the best in the world I will
carry on until Rio in 2016. I firmly believe the body can do anything;
it’s whether you can cope mentally. I did find it all a bit stressful.’
On the ropes: Jonas was beaten at the Olympics by eventual champion Katie Taylor
Jonas will certainly not have to worry about any competition from me in Rio, that’s for sure. As I fluff my way through some attempts at jabs and punches she says kindly: ‘Your top half’s quite good. It’s the bottom half that needs work.’ My legs aren’t that bad, I think, until I realise what she means: I’m constantly overbalancing, leaning forward instead of keeping weight on my back foot. Oops.
The focus of our session is not on strength but on form, while the cardiovascular side of the training – running and skipping – is fun and challenging. I can see why Jonas took to this sport after a knee injury stopped her playing football. More importantly, I realise that getting hung up on the impact of a woman being hit is to disregard the quick thought process and technical preparation needed to land that blow.
It’s captivating and it also helps me to understand what Jonas meant when she used the phrase ‘warrior women’ after her first-round victory in London. I thought it brilliantly summed up the barriers – physical, psychological and social – female boxers had overcome to reach that point, but it implies a cerebral strength, not just a physical one.
‘I didn’t mean “warrior” like I was
going to kill everyone,’ she explains. ‘I think it means being strong
enough to fight for what you believe in. You can be a warrior woman and
be a mathematician, not just a boxer.’
What they said
It turns out Olympic gold medallist Nicola Adams is bisexual.
The boxer was judged to be No 1 in the Independent on Sunday’s Pink List last week and said: ‘It’s amazing to be on top of a list of such inspiring and influential people. Thanks to everyone for their continued support.’ She’s right: it will be ‘continued support’. Her sexual preference matters not a jot.
… and this is what I've been doing this week
PLEASED to see British gold medallists Laura Trott, Joanna Rowsell and Dani King have been signed by road cycling team DTPC (Dream Team Pro Cycling), which will be part-funded by Bradley Wiggins’ Wiggo Foundation. Developments like this are one of the most crucial components of the London 2012 legacy.
VISITING the O2 arena for the first time since covering GB’s memorable bronze medal in the men’s gymnastics team event at the Olympics. It was bright pink then, but on Wednesday it was blue for the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals tennis. The Team GB flags were still out in force amid the mind-boggling amount of branding, mind you.
WATCHING England beat Fiji at Twickenham. It was a novel experience to watch a game without someone yelling a string of expletives in your ear; to hear a collective ‘oh dear’ when England made a mistake, rather than a barrage of abuse. It felt like a vehicle for people to have a good time, and, with England so firmly in control, I found it particularly strange to support a team without feeling any angst or tension whatsoever.