Hackney heavyweight targets Olympic gold medal

Stoke Newington heavyweight Lawrence Okolie, who has been selected for the GB Olympic squad

Stoke Newington heavyweight Lawrence Okolie, who has been selected for the GB Olympic squad - Credit: PA Wire/Press Association Images

Lawrence Okolie has qualified for the Olympics after just 23 amateur bouts – but the Stoke Newington fighter will only be happy if he wins gold in Rio.

Okolie, who was unable to watch the majority of London 2012 as he was working in McDonald’s, was inspired when he saw fellow heavyweight Anthony Joshua become an Olympic champion four years ago.

The 23-year-old, a psychosocial studies student at the University of East London, only began boxing in 2010 as a way of losing weight after tipping the scales at almost 18 stone.

He completed his transformation to gold medal contender when he qualified for Team GB in April – and Okolie’s eyes are firmly fixed on success in Brazil, despite his relative inexperience.

“I put a lot of pressure on myself because I want the gold medal. If I don’t win then my life will still continue but I am focused,” he said. “Training is going well. There are still a few weeks to refine things.

“There are some things I am working on that can hopefully give me an edge. I am inexperienced but I feel I soak up information quicker than someone who is more experienced.

“I could imagine this last year but I could never see it. But putting the kit on was crazy. When I started boxing, there was not an end goal or a plan – I just liked the training.

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“I had been boxing for a couple of years but I was working in McDonald’s in the summer of 2012 so I didn’t get to see any of the Games.

“Then I saw Anthony Joshua and Usain Bolt win Olympic gold so it was then that I thought ‘this is possible’. To be given an opportunity now is amazing.”

Okolie, who originally honed his skills at Repton BC and now represents Dagenham, was part of the British Universities & Colleges Sport team at the World University Games in 2014, when he won a gold medal.

And the boxer firmly believes that his experiences with BUCS have helped to get him ready for his Olympic bow next month.

“BUCS prepared me for this,” Okolie added. “I had world-class training facilities at the University of East London. We had sports therapists, strength and conditioning rooms and people who looked after us.

“So in terms of a set-up, it prepared me for Team GB because everything was so professional: the training, the preparation, the fights themselves.

“Getting in the ring with so little experience in a big competition is a big part of why I am going to Rio.

“When I transitioned to the GB set-up, I had the experience of fighting for someone.

“At uni, I was fighting for the university. Now I’m fighting for Britain and I have the public behind me – it is very similar. Without BUCS, I wouldn’t have qualified so quickly.”

British Universities & Colleges Sport (BUCS) is the national governing body for Higher Education (HE) sport in the UK, organising leagues and competitions for more than 150 institutions across 52 different sports.

Supported by Deloitte, BUCS offers programmes to athletes from a grassroots level through to Commonwealth and Olympic Games hopefuls. Visit www.bucs.org.uk for more information.