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Road To Rio: Marshall fights back from Olympic disappointment
GIVEN that she is a world boxing champion, perhaps it should be no surprise that Hartlepool’s Savannah Marshall has spent the last 12 months fighting back.
She has taken on all-comers at middleweight, winning gold in both the World Combat Games, a prestigious multi-sport event staged in St Petersburg in October, and the year’s major European tournament, which saw her comfortably outperform all of her major rivals.
Yet as well as tackling the best the world has to offer, the 22-year-old has also been forced to confront the continued fall-out from the fight that, rightly or wrongly, has come to overshadow her career.
Having won the world title in early 2012, Marshall entered the ring at London’s Excel Arena three months later as one of the favourites for the Olympic title.
Her first fight, against the unheralded Kazakh Marina Volnova, should have been a walkover. Instead, it proved the end of her Olympic dream.
In hindsight, Marshall admits she failed to cope with the intense pressure of the Olympic build up, which had seen her touted as Britain’s best prospect for an historic first gold medal in women’s boxing, an honour that eventually went the way of Leeds’ Nicola Adams.
She froze like a rabbit in the headlights, but a year-and-a-half on, the wounds have healed. To Marshall, the Olympics are a brief blot on a career record that would otherwise eclipse just about anything achieved by a North-East sportsman or woman in the last few years.
In Olympic sport, though, it tends to be that once-in-every-four-year event that matters. So for all her success away from the spotlight of the Games, it will only be when Marshall returns to Olympic competition in Rio that she will truly be able to draw a line under London 2012.
“It’s a little bit frustrating because it feels like people forgot about me after the Olympics,” said Marshall, whose softly-spoken nature betrays a fiercely competitive streak that was honed at Hartlepool’s Headland club in her teenage years. “I think people sort of assumed I’d stopped boxing, but I’m still here and I’m still the world champion.
“I don’t want to keep looking back at the Olympics, but I think they came a bit too soon for me. I was only 21, and I’d just boxed in the World Championships. I’d put so much into that and it was such a big achievement to be the first British woman to win a world title, but it was a case of going straight into the Olympics and I don’t really think my head was right.
“I probably needed a bit more experience to deal with everything that was going on outside the ring, but it happened and I’m not going to spend the rest of my life thinking about it.
“People seem to ignore everything else I’ve achieved and only concentrate on that one fight. They think that was the end for me, but it wasn’t. I’ve still got things I want to achieve, and I’m still as committed and driven as ever. I think I’ve improved loads as a boxer in the last year or so and I’m proud of everything I’ve done this year.”
Marshall’s success at the World Combat Games was especially notable, as she outperformed all the leading fighters who were involved in the latter stages of the Olympic competition.
Her emphatic final win over China’s Qian Li was a brilliant display of boxing, and proved once and for all that the Olympics were out of her system.
“It was important to go and do well there,” said Marshall, who trains four days a week at British boxing’s high-performance centre in Sheffield. “The World Combat Games might be nowhere near as well known as the Olympics, but they’re massive in our sport and it meant a lot to win. It was the first time I’ve boxed in them, and it proved I still belong at the top of world level.”
Next year’s major target is the Commonwealth Games, with women’s boxing making its debut in Glasgow, just as did at the London Olympics.
While most of Marshall’s leading opponents do not represent Commonwealth countries, the domestic opposition will be fierce with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all expected to select fighters to line up against her.
“It’s going to be a bit like the Olympics,” said Marshall. “And there’ll probably be a fair bit of attention again with it being the first time for women’s boxing.
“I’m confident I can handle all of that much better now, but my first job is to get picked for the (England) team and that’s not going to be easy because there are some really good youngsters coming through at the minute. There’s a real strength in depth to the British squad now, and that can only be good for the future.”
The profile of women’s boxing soared in the wake of London 2012, with Adams’ gold medal doing much to transform the image of a sport that is no longer regarded as something of a sideshow to the men’s game.
“I definitely think people know more about women’s boxing now, and they don’t think it’s unusual anymore,” said Marshall. “People no longer think it’s weird to see a girl turning up at her local boxing club wanting to train.
“When I was young, it was unheard of to have a girls’ fight on a local boxing show. Now, they’re happening all the time and that’s brilliant for the next generation who want to get into the sport. Hopefully, they won’t have to battle so hard to prove themselves and get noticed.”
* Savannah Marshall is a Sky Academy Sports Scholar, with Sky Sports helping 12 of Britain and Ireland’s most exciting athletes fulfil their promise.
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