THERE have been some dark days for Savannah Marshall over the course of the last two years, so as the realisation of her greatest boxing triumph began to sink in, it was only natural that the Hartlepool middleweight began to find the emotion a little too much.
Standing on top of the medal podium in Glasgow’s cavernous SSE Hydro, Marshall covered her face to wipe away a tear after she had been presented with the Commonwealth Games gold medal that finally closes the book on the most challenging chapter of her career.
Distraught at her failure to live up to her billing at the London Olympics, Marshall’s attempts to rebuild her reputation were thwarted by a succession of niggling injuries that kept her out of the ring for more than eight months.
While her close friend and team-mate, Nicola Adams, became a national heroine, Marshall was forced to remain in the shadows, a world champion and winner at the World Combat Games, events that carry a great deal of clout within amateur boxing circles, but largely unknown within the wider sporting world.
All that changed on Saturday evening, as the 23-year-old, who first took up boxing when she wandered into Hartlepool’s Headland club as a gangly teenager, outpointed Canada’s Ariane Fortin in a Commonwealth final that remained in the balance until the very last seconds.
In the ring, Marshall was an exemplar of controlled aggression, jabbing out her left hand to keep Fortin at arm’s length and timing her attacks to deny her opponent an opportunity to respond with heavy punches of her own.
Outside the ropes, however, with the English national anthem filling the hall, her composure briefly disappeared. Boxers might have to be tough, but the mental scars they carry are often as damaging as the physical ones that are an occupational hazard of the sport. Marshall has gone through the wringer since the summer of 2012, but to her immense credit, she has emerged as a champion.
“I’m so happy after that,” said Marshall. “And it’s definitely made it a lot better because of the journey I’ve been on.
“I don’t really think about London because it was two years ago now, but I’m happy to have won a gold medal at a multi-sport event. It’s a big achievement, and this is a perfect springboard for the World Championships later this year.”
Marshall will defend her world title in South Korea in November, and her current status as both world and Commonwealth Games champion marks her out as one of the most successful North-East sportsmen or women currently plying their trade on the international stage.
She is certainly the most successful amateur boxer the region has ever produced, and given her recent injury problems and the fact she is only 23, it is heartening to imagine that her best days could still be ahead of her.
A successful world-title defence would certainly mark her out as one of the biggest stars of a hugely-successful British squad, and after betraying the occasional sign of rustiness in Glasgow, she is confident she will be in even better shape by the time she travels to South Korea at the end of the year.
“The last World Championships were two years ago so going in there, people will probably have forgotten what I did last time,” said Marshall.
“I think I’m far from my best at the moment. My sharpness still needs to come back, but that will take time. It sends a message to my rivals that I can win when I’m not at my best, but you’re only as good as your last fight so the hard work just has to start again.”
Marshall’s last fight at the moment is Saturday’s final, and while she always had the upper hand against the more muscular Fortin, the contrast in styles between the two fighters meant the final verdict was always going to be something of a lottery.
Marshall was the more accomplished technician throughout, with her jab enabling her to take advantage of her superior reach and her impressive footwork causing Fortin problems.
However, the Canadian fighter landed a number of heavy blows, and was generally the more aggressive and positive of the two, something that can often play well on a judge’s scorecard.
The different in styles split the three judges at ringside, with one awarding Marshall every round while another judged Fortin to be a four-point winner.
The crucial third judge came down in Marshall’s favour, enabling the North-Easterner to throw her hands to the air as the result was announced to more than 10,000 raucous spectators.
“Fair play to the Canadian, she’s really strong, physical and experienced, but I found a way to win and that’s all that matters,” said Marshall.
“I knew I lost the last round, but personally I thought I won the first three, but you never know what the judges are thinking.”
With Adams adding the Commonwealth Games flyweight title to her Olympic crown courtesy of another hard-fought win over Northern Ireland’s Michaela Walsh, Saturday was another successful day for British amateur boxing.
And with the female weight divisions proving every bit as exciting and competitive as the men’s as women’s boxing made its Commonwealth debut in Glasgow, the last ten days have further silenced those who would decry the merit of giving the two forms of the sport equal billing.
“I’m just really happy that Nicola did it,” said Marshall. “She’s one of my best friends and I’m glad we can be Commonwealth champions together.”