Published Wednesday 25 July 2012

Northlander Daniella Smith, who won the IBF world welterweight boxing title in 2010, is the inspiration behind Alexis Pritchard’s crack at Olympic glory.
Pritchard and Siona Fernandes are New Zealand’s boxing representatives at the London Olympics, the first time the competition has been open to women.
Smith won her world title by beating home-town favourite Jennifer Retzke in a unanimous points decision in Berlin.
Though she lost her title the following year in South Africa, her success has galvanised women’s boxing in New Zealand.
“Daniella has been very inspiring for me,” Pritchard said. “When I was starting out in boxing nine years ago, she was an amateur. I really looked up to her. I trained with her and watched how she went about her business.
“When she turned pro [in 2005] there wasn’t anyone left in the amateurs in New Zealand of her standard. I kept in touch with her and still do.
“We are on Facebook and email each other and she’s been so supportive of me going to the Olympics.”
Pritchard and Fernandes are surprisingly close to Olympic glory.
In this women’s boxing Olympic debut, the three weight divisions are restricted to 12 entrants, four of whom get a first-round bye into the quarter-finals.
Anyone winning a quarter-final bout is assured of a medal, so it is conceivable that the two New Zealanders could earn medals by winning one bout. The draw will be done on July 27 and women’s boxing begins on August 5.
“Having small draws is a double-edged sword,” said New Zealand boxing coach Cameron Todd. “It means the girls don’t have to win many bouts to get among the medals, but it also means there are no easy bouts. Everyone in the field is a quality boxer.”
Pritchard, 28, came to New Zealand 12 years ago from Cape Town, South Africa. She was a hockey player and entered the gym in search of a bit of fitness work.
She discovered boxing and was hooked.
In London she will move up in weight slightly to the lightweight division.
Fernandes, 29, is from Goa, India. She moved to New Zealand five years ago and is in her third year of boxing.
She has a background as a classical dancer – and not a lot of boxers could claim that. She explained how her 17 years as a dancer had helped her boxing.
“It transfers very well,” she said. “Dancing requires balance, co-ordination, footwork, focus, rhythm, agility, speed, power with the legs – they’re all important in boxing, too. You really do have to float like a butterfly.”
Fernandes will compete in the flyweight division, which means she’s had to drop her weight slightly.
New Zealand has a surprisingly good record in Olympic boxing, though the pickings have been lean lately.
Ted Morgan won a welterweight gold medal in Amsterdam in 1928, despite boxing the entire event with a broken left hand. It was the first gold medal won for New Zealand – Malcolm Champion’s swimming gold in 1912 was as part of an Australasian team.
Kevin Barry won a silver medal in the light-heavyweight section at Los Angeles in 1984, after his sensational victory by disqualification over strong favourite Evander Holyfield.
And in 1992, David Tua won a bronze medal at Barcelona in the heavyweight division. He used his medal as the springboard for a long and successful professional career.
There are no men in the New Zealand boxing team in London, so the women are in full focus.
They’re aware that how they fare will be important for New Zealand boxing and for women, and to judge by their attitude at their press conference today, they are up for the challenge.
Note: During the press conference Pritchard pulled out a camera and took a few snaps of the media who were interviewing her. This unusual turn of events reminded me of what Tua did in 1992.
After he’d sealed his bronze medal, he was pursued around the outside of the boxing arena by a small posse of New Zealand journalists and stopped to do an impromptu interview. Just as things were getting under way, he spied television journalist Paul Holmes. Tua held up his hand, dived into his duffle bag and pulled out a camera. “Can someone take a photo of me and Mr Holmes,” he requested. Even Holmes had the good grace to look slightly abashed at that turn of events!