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Nicola Adams casts her mind back two decades, but sounds like she is describing the 1950s. “Shouldn’t you be in the kitchen,” was the pitiful standard of put down from the meatheads as she began her pioneering career in boxing aged 13. “When I first started, I was the only girl in the girl in the gym. It’s a different world now.”
Two Olympic golds later, and a sporting landscape transformed. The number of female boxers in the UK doubled within months of her first title in 2012, and her exploits in Rio four years later, sparked another estimated surge of tens of thousands. The brickbats faced by teenage Adams, who overcame ADHD and discrimination to become the best of her generation, were worth it.
“I am excited,” says the recently retired WBO flyweight champion of this week’s Boxing Road to Tokyo qualifiers. “It’s nice to see there’s a path set out for them now. They don’t have to fight to get in the gym and for people to train them. It’s just nice to see there’s a set up for them now. They know what they have to do and there is a pathway for them in boxing. That’s the important thing. You can forget about anything else.”
Caroline Dubois and Lauren Price are her tips for the podiums come July, and Adams is happy to be stepping back from the sport, instead commentating ringside on the newly created Olympics Channel.
There are half a dozen Britons in with a genuine shout this summer thanks in no small part to the legacy created by Adams. “It was so hard before it became an Olympic sport in 2009,” she says. “Training was tough. There was no funding. We had to find our own facilities and we struggled to find coaches to take us away. We didn’t have any physios or doctors or any of any of the things we needed. It really was very tough, working alongside training, which is so hard, when you are coming up against those who are full time.”
It has been a rollercoaster year for Adams, forced into retirement last autumn through injury. Having turned professional in 2017, she hinted the previous summer that she might pull a surprise by defending her Olympic title at Tokyo. “I wonder how this medal would look on my mantelpiece,” she tweeted next to the 2020 medal design. Any hope was dashed in November, however, as she was forced to quit immediately over fears another bout could cause loss of sight.
“I already had a plan set in place for what I retired,” she said, dismissing suggestions that she ever seriously thought of competing at Tokyo. “I was only going to box for another two or three fights so the plan was already there. But the eye injury just moved things forward quicker than planned. Fortunately, I already had a plan already in place.”
The Leeds boxer’s last fight was last autumn when she retained her WBO title following a split-decision draw with Mexico’s Maria Salinas. Since then she had been planning for the future and begun acting classes as well as stepping up commentary commitments with the BBC.
Adams recognises boxing had nothing more to give her after she won Commonwealth, European and world titles as an amateur and her 2016 gold medal saw her become the first British boxer for 92 years to retain an Olympic title. However, for a woman who smashed through so many glass ceilings, she recognised the prospect of finding a new career was “scary and intimidating”.
“Luckily I’ve got a good set of friends and family that have been here to support me, not just now, but all through my career, to help with any questions I have, because it can be daunting, because all you’re doing is training and competing and then you come out the other side,” she adds.
Adams has since become an ambassador for Barclays, promoting its “Lifeskills” programme, which provides free online advice and resources for adults of all ages to help improve their skills and change careers. “It was something I was readying for at the time because I’d already been talking about what I was going to do next, but didn’t expect it to happen so quickly,” she says of her retirement. “But I’m very adaptable and I took a long time thinking about whether I would do. Ultimately though I was happy because I’d accomplished everything in boxing that I could.
“At the moment I’ve been taking time out to spend time with the family and now I’m going to be doing more of the TV stuff, moving forward. I’ll be working for the BBC and commentating over the Olympic qualifiers as well, which is going to be exciting.”
Adams says her booming sport is proof that the likes of the Daily Telegraph are right to keep increasing coverage of women’s sport coverage. “I watched the Women’s World Cup, and the coverage was just unbelievable,” she said. “We need to show more. If we improve the viewing it will take care of itself.” The revolution, she says, must be televised.