By Owen Morgan
Rosie Eccles admitted she was “heartbroken” after losing her opening bout in the Boxing Road to Tokyo Olympic qualifying event at the Copper Box Arena on Sunday.
Eccles lost a split points decision to Russian fourth seed Saadat Dalgatova and the Welsh welterweight told Boxing News: “I don’t know what to say to be honest with you, I’m absolutely heartbroken.
“I knew what to do to combat her style, but one way or another, according to the judges, I didn’t do that.
“It wasn’t a nice fight to be in, it was just messy. I pride myself on getting my tactics right but maybe I was a little too eager against someone who wants to get in there and tie you up.”
Like Wales’ Sammy Lee, Eccles is now relying on a being picked for the one remaining qualifying tournament in Paris.
Eccles’ shock reverse came after British Boxing’s performance director Rob McCracken had hailed Wales’ emerging world class talent as three Welsh fighters had originally prepared to challenge for places at this year’s Tokyo Olympics.
Lauren Price and Eccles were selected by British Boxing to climb into the ring at the tournament at London’s former Olympic arena.
Sammy Lee had originally been selected to join them, but a shoulder injury means he has been forced to pull out of the event.
The Commonwealth Games gold medal winner can still pursue his Tokyo dream, however. If Lee gets fit then he is scheduled to compete in the second and final trials tournament in Paris in May.
McCracken has praised the trio’s efforts and those of Welsh Boxing’s performance director Chris Type and head coach Colin Jones, who himself represented Great Britain at the 1976 Montreal Olympics.
McCracken, a world title challenger and coach to world heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua, said: “It is a great achievement for Wales to have three boxers with the opportunity of going to the Olympic Games.
“Colin Jones and Chris Type are doing a great job in Welsh Boxing and we have a very good relationship with them which is really helpful and enables us to get the best out of the boxers.
“Over the last 10 years, we have developed a great tradition of Welsh boxers going to the Olympics with Fred Evans, who won silver in London, Andrew Selby and then Joe Cordina, so it is great that Lauren, Rosie and Sammy have the opportunity to continue this.”
Neath product Lee won a light heavyweight gold for Wales at the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Australia.
Since then he has fought at the World Championships, where he narrowly lost on a split decision, and moved down to the middleweight division where he has impressed.
McCracken said: “Sammy is still young, but has had a lot of experience, competing at Commonwealth Games and world championships, so he is quite battle hardened and used to competing at the top-level.
“We did have some options at middleweight, but none had really made the slot their own, so the coaches and I decided to see if Sammy could come down from light-heavyweight and he has managed it well.
“He impressed us at the weight and, physically, is still a handful for his opponents so we chose him to go to the qualifier.
“His injury is very disappointing news for Sammy after he worked so hard to get selected at middleweight. His bad luck opens the door for Lewis Richardson who is our reserve at this weight and has been in good form recently.”
Commonwealth Games silver medallist Eccles also suffered a narrow defeat at last year’s World Championships, this after she suffered a controversial decision going against her at the semi-final stage of the European Championships.
But the welterweight, who has masters’ degree in sports psychology, has bounced back from those disappointments to display a steely resolve and unswerving ambition to make it to the Olympics.
McCracken says the Caldicott fighter had thoroughly deserved her chance to challenge for an Olympic place.
“Rosie is extremely fit and full of energy,” he said. “She is still quite inexperienced but works hard and has really earnt the right to go the qualifier through her performances over the last 18 months.”
Price, the third Welsh boxer on show in the capital, has already proved her class at the top level by winning the middleweight world title.
McCracken said: “Lauren Price has had a fantastic two years and to be Wales’ first world champion is a phenomenal achievement. She is strong, quick and works hard in training.
“The progress she has made since she joined the GB Boxing squad in 2016 is fantastic. She wins medals everywhere she goes and is a great athlete to work with.”
McCracken makes a point of not making predictions regarding his boxers, but did say: “Having the event in London is a great opportunity for the boxers and hopefully having the crowd on their side will inspire them to produce their best.”
Eight men and five women will carry the fight for GB at the qualifying tournament which is taking place between March 14 and 24. They will be among more than 350 boxers from over 40 countries competing for 77 places in Tokyo.
Although boxers will secure qualification at different stages in the tournament – depending on how many places are available at their weight – the competition will continue through to the medal stages in all 13 weight classes as performance will impact on the seeding in Tokyo.
There are four qualification places available at Price’s weight. Depending on seedings and the draw, she will begin her campaign on March 14, or more likely March 17. She will have the opportunity to secure qualification in the quarter-finals on Friday March 20.
Tickets for the Boxing Road to Tokyo Olympic qualifier in London are on sale from £5 at https://see.tickets/boxingroadtotokyo
Further information about the event is available at www.boxingroadtotokyolondon.org.