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UEL road to Rio: Lawrence Okolie fighting to the top

UEL students

By Gareth Anstice

Heavyweight boxer Lawrence Okolie says he is ready to follow in the footsteps of Anthony Joshua and Nicola Adams by fighting his way to the top of the medals podium at next month’s Rio Olympics.

The University of East London (UEL) fighter is eager to extend Team GB’s winning streak in the boxing ring after underlining his medal credentials with a superb performance to win the Olympic qualifying tournament in Samsun, Turkey, in April.

“It hasn’t totally sunk in that I’ll be following in the footsteps of those great boxers,” said Lawrence during a break from training at the English Institute of Sport in Sheffield.

“It’s crazy to see their faces all over the gym and that I’m going to the Olympics just like them, It’s surreal to think that one day I can be like them. But I’m confident and I’m ready to go.”

Lawrence, from Hackney, demonstrated his huge potential when he made his debut for the GB Lionhearts in Miami in January and won a split decision over American star Cam Awesome.

From that moment, he said he felt confident he had the skill and strength to qualify for the Olympics, despite his inexperience compared to many other fighters in his weight division.

Remarkably, his victory in the final of the Olympic qualifying tournament was only his 23rd competitive fight.

“Even though I have such a low amount of fights behind me, being surrounded by world-class staff and athletes saying they believe in you gives you that extra boost and belief.

“By the time I went to the qualifiers, I felt confident in myself that I could go and do it.

“When I qualified, I felt a lot of pressure off of my shoulders, but that quickly turned into pressure in having to fight for GB at the Olympics.

“I was incredibly happy to qualify because it proved the training I’d put myself through had paid dividends.

“It’s going to be a massive honour to put on the GB kit at an Olympic Games. The moment I first got a kit with my surname on the back was a massive moment for me. But to now be able to go to Rio and represent my country with my name on the back of the kit will be massive for me.”

Lawrence’s route into boxing was far from orthodox. He originally took up the sport as a teenager in an in attempt to lose weight but was instantly hooked.

“I tried football, basketball, all sorts but I never really took to those sports,” he said. “As soon as I walked into a boxing gym, I heard the bags getting punched, the smells, the feeling of it all, and I instantly connected with it.

“My first session was on a Monday, I then went to the Wednesday and Friday too. It’s been my life ever since.”

Lawrence started to take boxing seriously when he joined the acclaimed sports scholar programme at UEL, where he has completed two years of his degree in Psychosocial Studies. He has deferred his third year to concentrate on his Olympic campaign.

The University gave him the opportunity to train regularly and tap into their staff’s wealth of knowledge and skills.

“UEL gave me a sports scholarship which helped me blend my academic career with my aspirations in sport,” said Lawrence.

“They were the first ones to introduce me to strength and conditioning and gave me the opportunity to train consistently.

That meant when I made the transition to the GB team, it wasn’t a shock to my system and I was able to take it to the next level.”

Despite becoming one of the most talked about GB boxers ahead of Rio 2016, Lawrence remains firmly grounded and is keen to thank the many UEL staff and students who have sent him good luck messages.

“I get a lot of messages and a lot of social media contact from people at UEL and Hackney,” he said.

“You may not think it’s a big deal when you’re sending that message but it gives me extra motivation, an extra boost, and it gets me through those harder days. Thank-you for your support.”