This Olympics, history will be made as women compete in boxing for the very first time. To mark the occasion, Stylist goes head to head with Team GB’s Natasha Jonas, 28, who took up boxing to tone up but has fast become one of the UK’s most promising medal hopefuls. Believe us, this is a girl who wants her name in the record books.
How did you get into boxing?
I used to play football in America, but I tore my cruciate ligament and had to retire. So I had a long time of doing nothing, no sport at all, and I put on a lot of weight. I decided to go to the gym to try and get fit and when I was there a lady came up to me and said, “We’re holding a ladies-only boxing night at our local club, why don’t you come along instead of training by yourself.” I wasn’t doing anything else so I went. As it turned out I loved the training, loved the atmosphere and loved competing. I was hooked from there.
Be honest, does it hurt?
No-one likes being punched in the face, but we have gum-shields, head-guards and referees so I’ve never been badly injured. Saying that, punching someone and being punched is as physical as a sport can get, so I’m either good at it, or really lucky.
Do you get funny looks if you walk along the street with a black eye?
It can be uncomfortable if I’m out in public with my boyfriend and I’ve got a black eye or a bloody nose. I can see people thinking, ‘did he give her that’? Sometimes I think I have to explain, but that makes it worse. They’re like, ‘ and she’s trying to cover for him.’ I feel like shouting, “I box!”
How do people react when you tell them what you do?
People always tell me I look nothing like a boxer. It’s bad that they assume you’ll look a certain way, but at the same time, given the stereotypical image people have, I’m glad they don’t think I look like that! But it’s not really something that I tout around. Like “oh yeah, I’m a boxer.” Obviously if someone asks me what I do I tell them, it’s like a job, but it doesn’t define who I am.
Do you have to be a particular type of person to be good at boxing?
I would say you have to have certain skills to get as far as I have, but boxing is also a mental challenge. You have to be a certain type of person to be able to get in the ring and compete, and to keep going, even when things are going bad. There are people on the team who, skill-wise, are better than others, but then there are those who have the will to do well, and that’s why they do.
How do you feel about hitting another woman?
It’s hard. One of my main issues is that I’m too nice; my coaches say I don’t have that ‘finishing’ instinct. We’re all there to do a job, but at the same time you are fearful of doing someone permanent harm or damage. So you have to put your emotions aside and let your sporting instinct take over.
Do women box differently to men?
What I find with the men, as we spar with them, is that a lot of their movements are automatic. They’ve not thought about it. If you’re sparring with a lad and he’s just hit you with a combination. If you stop him, and ask him what he’s just done, he won’t be able to tell you. Women tend to think about it a bit more. And I think we’re better because we do that.
Do you ever get scared in the ring?
Nerves are good, it just depends on how you control them. Some people need to be nervous, but I’m lucky that I’m one of those people who’s laid back and calm. Some people get nervous and can’t cope with those nerves, so it affects how they perform. For me, every time I get in the ring it’s a big buzz. I love the feeling of competing, I love being in the ring and I love hearing the crowd cheering.
Aren’t you worried about getting hurt at all?
No. Imagine a Formula One driver. They get in their vehicle and they just race. They’ll never get in and think, ‘I might crash today’, but they know that they could, and that it could cause them damage. It’s the same with me. I get in the ring to compete and to try and win. I am aware of the dangers, but I’m there first to compete. You have to put your worries to the back of your mind. If you thought like that about everything, you’d never leave your house.
What goes through your head when you’re boxing?
Some of the stuff that we work on with our psychologists is about how you react emotionally when someone hits you. Some people react emotionally and some react tactically; one’s with your brain and one’s with your heart. When someone punches you, it’s hard not to go, ‘Argh you’ve just punched me I’m going to punch you back’. You have to think, ‘Right you hit me, but that’s not going to happen again, how am I going to get my point back?’
What sacrifices have you made for your boxing?
One of my passions is food and I’ve definitely sacrificed that. I have to be really strict with my diet, especially because I’ve come down from the weight category above, and I find it really difficult. For me, breakfast will be 2 or 3 poached eggs on one piece of toast, lunch will be a mixture of carbs, protein and vegetables and dinner will just be protein and vegetables. I’ve always eaten quite well but as soon as someone says you can’t have something, that’s all you can think about. That’s when I’ll think, ‘God, I’m dying for a bar of chocolate’. My vice is ice cream, but my nutritionist has been really good and because he knows I love it so much, he’s managed to work it in.
You’re making history by being one of the first women to compete in boxing at the Olympics, how does that make you feel?
I’ve been the first woman to box for England, and the first to qualify for the Olympics team. Having a record like that is brilliant and they’re things that people can’t take away from you, but I don’t aim to go out and break records, I aim to go and win. If I became the first woman to win an Olympic gold medal at boxing I would be over the moon, but I’d be happier about the fact that I went there and did what I needed to do.
Knockout Scousers: True Stories, Tuesday 17 July, 11.05pm, Channel 4