Hampshire boxer Ebonie Jones and her Olympic dreams
PUBLISHED: 10:54 19 August 2019 | UPDATED: 10:54 19 August 2019
In a traditionally male-dominated sport, Ebonie Jones tells us how she is fighting her way to the top, with next year's Olympics in her sight
"When I was young I would run up Butser Hill with my dad at the top shouting, encouraging me. He's always been really supportive, and the rest of my family."
At 21 years of age Ebonie Jones is a young, attractive woman with long blonde hair. But stereotypes? Don't even go there. This Portsmouth lass, you see, has a passion for one of the toughest sports there is - boxing. Not that this was the first combative discipline she'd tried.
"I started kickboxing when I was ten when I got books from the library on martial arts."
At this point, Ebonie assures me she is "really girlie", and looking at a childhood photograph taken in her bedroom, a line up of dolls nearby, she does appear to be the sort of little princess who would choose to spend her time dressing up. Until you realise that broad smile is actually down to the punch bag.
A couple of years into kickboxing Ebonie took up boxing lessons in order to strengthen her hands. But she was soon hooked. She joined a boxing club in the port city where she loved to run along the seafront and for the next few years competed at junior level, winning national and European titles. A "normal teenage life" wasn't something she either pined for or missed so I'm not surprised to learn of the appeal of the Army.
"At 17 I joined up as an engineer to have a qualification. The Army gives elite sports people the opportunity to do sport full time. I got into the Army boxing team but I'm also part of the GB team."
Based at Aldershot, where the accommodation is "basic, but with everything you need", Ebonie travels to Sheffield each week to train with her GB colleagues. A typical day involves a weigh in at 7am followed by running half an hour later, weights mid-morning then sparring and "a bit of bag".
Competing at flyweight means maintaining a 51kg weight for the Olympics. Always nutritionally conscious, close to competitions Ebonie rigorously sticks to a diet routine: mainly protein (eggs, shakes) for breakfast, the biggest meal of the day packed with carbohydrates at lunchtime, and protein with vegetables in the evening.
Unfazed by the thought of getting hurt, the 157cm tall champion brushes off my concerns - despite head guards - about black eyes (yes, she's had one) and cuts (the skin under her top lip was once split). "A lot of people don't believe I box when they look at me," she smiles. That's true. But, appearances aside, this is one gritty and determined sportswoman who has been English champion five times, British champion twice, and has won the European Championships as a junior and, last year, in the under-22 category. Out of 65 fights she has experienced only five losses, which must be good for her confidence. Even so, does she feel nervous before going into the ring?
"I do but the only thing that helps for me is experience. I remember the times I've felt bad but it turned out okay. I know the feeling I'll get every time. You have to focus on the game plan." What happens when that clashes with your opponent's game plan? "In the ring you're alone. What makes a good boxer is being someone who can adapt."
An awareness of crowd support, Ebonie states, is a positive spur. Then she laughs as she explains when fighting abroad a quiet crowd means she's winning.
Recognising that boxing is a lonely sport doesn't seem to deter Ebonie. She is focussed, aware of the benefits of sports psychology particularly when pressure is building, but is pragmatically programmed to "just get on with it". In fact she is mature in many ways.
"I'm dedicated to boxing and regimented with myself. As I get older, I'm aware it's good to act professional."
With the World Championships in Russia later this year, and the 2020 Tokyo Olympics in her sights, Ebonie is definitely a British contender to watch out for. But it's also good to know that neither success nor travel has dented her enthusiasm for her Hampshire.
"Since leaving home I've been to all sorts of different places. When I come home to Portsmouth, I appreciate it a lot more."
Follow Ebonie on Twitter: @Eboniejones98
Boxing training benefits anyone keen to keep fit, not only those with an interest in fighting.
Filip Duda, head coach at Winchester Boxing Club, explains the advantages. "From a physical point of view, classes help you develop cardio, speed and coordination. Mentally, boxing training can also help regulate anxiety and anger while building up self esteem." The club caters for children (minimum age five) with the focus on basic skills and fun. Sparring is not allowed until the age of ten.
Adult classes are also popular with typical routines including skipping, climbing ropes and kettle bells while sparring is optional. "The club is open seven days a week," Filip adds, "and we have women-only sessions where no men are allowed to participate."
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