Wales can boast two world class women boxers – world champion Lauren Price and Olympic hopeful Rosie Eccles, who both came through Pontypool Amateur Boxing Club. For Eccles, 2020 is all about positive thinking and moving on from last year, as she told Owen Morgan.
Rosie Eccles isn’t someone who dwells on past disappointments.
In August, a contentious decision denied her a place in the final of the European Boxing Championships and two months later a narrow loss to a top class opponent saw her exit the World Championships after her second bout.
“I was robbed!” would have been the cry of many a boxer, especially after the controversial European Championship defeat at the hands of Angela Carini.
Not Eccles. Her response is fitting of a woman who recently graduated with a masters’ degree in sports psychology.
Instead of cursing her luck, the Caldicot welterweight is only interested in learning from the lessons of those setbacks and using that knowledge to realise her burning ambition of competing at this year’s Tokyo Olympics.
The 23-year-old is determined to take the positives from her experiences at the European and world tournaments.
“I went out to the worlds in Russia in good form,” says Eccles. “I beat the world number four in my first fight and then I lost to the Chinese world number two in the second.
“It was a massive blow, but I thought I performed really well in that fight. She went on to beat the current world champion in her next fight and eventually brought home the world silver medal. She was a good girl.
“Like everyone said at the end, if they’d have given it (the verdict) to me, no-one could have argued. If they’d given it to her, I couldn’t have argued.
“I gave her a standing count in the second round, so I thought I might have the decision, but I couldn’t complain. It was a really highly competitive and close fight.
“She was an awkward customer, really – southpaw, long, tall. So, even though no boxer wants to lose, in terms of performance and the calibre of opponent I went out to, and the quality of the girl I beat before that as well, there were a lot of positives to take from it in terms of where we are in the Olympic cycle.
“I fought top class opposition from the start and I performed well, so it’s unfortunate and frustrating, but it’s just a matter of time now and hopefully it will all come together.”
The European championships defeat, was more difficult to accept.
“The Europeans was a hard one to swallow because that was my chance for a place in the final and it was quite clearly a wrong decision.
“But there are two ways you can look at it. If you are bitter about it, you don’t learn much.
“Even when you win you can learn from it . . . ‘you can win better’ is what I always say to everyone. You can always look for something you can do better.
“Ok, they might not have given the decision to me, but I’m improving and that’s what boxing is all about. It’s all on you and you can’t always control the judges.
“Hopefully, come the Olympic qualifiers, it all gets pieced together at the right time.”
The Olympics is a long standing dream for Eccles. When asked what competing in Tokyo would mean to her, she says: “I probably can’t even put it into words.”
However, she manages to do so perfectly: “As a kid, before I even started boxing, my dream was to be an Olympian and an Olympic gold medallist. I hadn’t even found my sport yet!
“It almost feels unreal now that it is actually becoming a possibility. It’s a two-part dream, to be an Olympian and then to be a medallist . . . a gold medallist.
“It’s possible, but you do have to pinch yourself and re-focus on it. You feel so close to it, but you’ve got to get everything right. It would mean everything.
“A lot of people forget that as an athlete you have so many people who help you along the way and it would be amazing to give something back to them.
Early morning run done out here in Colorado . High altitude training getting us fit and ready for 2020 pic.twitter.com/hnEDMNVOjV
— T. (@toriellis_xo) January 12, 2020
“You carry people with you, they become part of the dream and it becomes theirs as well. That is the magic in it.
“An Olympics feels like everyone would share it. All the coaches who have been part of it, all the people who got you into it, your family that support you.
“That’s the magic of the Olympics, it’s so big everyone can get involved as well. It’s something special.”
Qualifying won’t be easy. Only one British fighter from each weight division will be selected to compete at the qualifying competitions next year.
Eccles’ number one British rival for a place at the qualifiers is Sandy Ryan. The Englishwoman beat her in the gold medal fight at the 2018 Commonwealth Games, but Eccles gained her revenge at the Europeans and went further at the Worlds.
Eccles says: “Boxing is one of the hardest sports to get qualification to the Olympics. Only one boxer from GB in each weight gets selected to go to the qualifiers and those boxers haven’t been announced yet.
“There are the world qualifiers in May, but you hope to get your qualifying done and dusted in London in March.
Before then, Eccles will be working hard in training both at home and abroad as part of GB Boxing’s podium squad, including training camps in both Sheffield and Colorado.
Eccles says the support she initially received from Sport Wales, Welsh Boxing and now National Lottery Funding as part of the GB podium squad has been invaluable – the Lottery funding ending the constant struggle to balance a number of part-time jobs, training and her university studies.
Get behind our Olympic hopefuls!
The first qualifying event for Tokyo2020 takes place in London 14-24 March!
— GB Boxing (@gbboxing) January 11, 2020
“I’m really, really fortunate now that I get a wage and all my training costs paid for by the Lottery. It’s massively transformed things, especially now since I’ve finished my degree.
“Before, I was spreading myself so thin I was having to earn a wage to pay my rent and my bills. On top of that I was doing the degree as a back-up so I could eventually earn some more money than just low wage jobs. Then, I would train in a full camp four days a week and train every other day of the week as well.
“Whereas now, I’ve finished uni and I don’t have to work. I rely on sponsors a little bit as well, but it means that all focus can go into training. That’s the big difference it has made.”
Now, Eccles hopes she can reap the rewards in the ring. “Even though I didn’t get the medals I wanted at the worlds, it’s just the way it went.
“You can’t always predict boxing but the performances were there and it’s started to pay off now. It’s starting to show the benefit of having that time to train.”