Laurell targets medal glory
Luke G. Williams
Now that the height of summer is upon us, the attention of the boxing world is inevitably turning to the Rio Olympics.
Sweden’s record at previous Olympics is better than you might think – consisting of 11 boxing medals in the history of the modern Games, although no Swedish boxer has ever won gold (the country’s current tally is five bronze and six silver).
The last time Sweden medalled in boxing was 28 long years ago in Seoul, when George Cramne (later known by the surname Scott) won silver at lightweight and Lars Myrberg snaffled a bronze in the light-welterweight division.
At Rio the country’s medal hopes will rest solely on the experienced shoulders of 36-year-old female boxer Anna Laurell, the only Swede to have qualified for the Olympics.
A two-time former World Amateur Champion (in 2001 and 2005), as well as a three-time former European Amateur Champion (in 2004, 2005 and 2007), Laurell reached the quarter-finals of the middleweight tournament at the 2012 London Olympics, before losing 18-14 to the eventual champion, American Claressa Shields, who will also be in Rio to defend her title.
Boxing Monthly caught up with Laurell to see how her preparations for Rio have been going and hear her thoughts about her medal prospects.
BM: How has your training been going in the lead-up to the Games? How are you feeling?
AL: I’ve had very good preparation leading up to the Games: my husband has been training me since my comeback and it’s been fun to share the journey with him. I’ve had good sparring and good physical and mental preparation. I’m excited and can’t wait!
BM: Have you arrived in Rio yet?
AL: I’m not in Rio yet, since I’m not fighting until 14 August at the earliest. I’m coming over a bit later so that I can keep up my training. Rio is one of my favourite cities in the world and to have the Olympics there will be great.
BM: What are your aims and ambitions for the middleweight tournament?
AL: I am in very good shape and my hope is to perform at my very best, while my dream is to bring home a medal!
BM: In the London Olympics you lost to eventual gold medallist Claressa Shields in the quarter-finals. What are your memories of that contest?
AL: I had two fights in the London Olympics, I won my first fight against Australian Naomi Lee-Fischer and I lost to Claressa. I remember that I was not really happy with either of my performances at the London 2012 Olympics mainly due to the fact that I was so distracted by how ‘big’ it was to be at the Olympics. It was hard to focus on the fights. I think I started off quite well against Claressa but she was the better boxer in the end.
BM: Would you like to face Claressa again? How do you think the fight would go?
AL: Claressa is a fantastic boxer so of course I want to fight her again. I think I have a good chance of winning.
BM: Which other boxers do you think are your main rivals or the main dangers to you?
AL: Only 12 boxers qualify for the Olympics, so obviously there are no ‘easy’ fights. I will have to be at my best to beat any of the girls that have qualified!
BM: You’ve been drawn against Great Britain’s Savannah Marshall in your first contest. What are your feelings about that?
AL: I feel great! Savannah is a good boxer and it’s a tough draw but I know it will be a great fight!
BM: What areas of your boxing have you worked hardest to improve on since London 2012?
AL: When I was younger I was more of a counter-punching boxer, using my feet a lot. Since I have a very good physique I’ve been working on getting down more on my feet and being more of an offensive boxer, using my strength, which has been successful and is also in line with the scoring system [used at the Olympics] I think.
BM: You are the only Swedish boxer in the Rio Games. How does this feel and how does it feel to represent your country in the Olympics?
AL: I’m very happy but also sad. I’m so proud to once again represent my country at the Olympics, to me it’s the most prestigious thing anyone could do! It would have been so much fun to share this with a team-mate and we had a few that came close. I’m confident they will make it next time.
BM: You've had so many successes in your career. What would you pick out as your favourite memory from boxing?
AL: It’s very hard to choose one but I think my European Championship Gold in 2007 might have been my happiest moment. In 2006 I was diagnosed with Graves’ disease and I was not able to train or do anything at all for a long time. Everyone around me thought I should quit boxing but when I asked myself I was not ready. When I started training again I had to work very hard and it all went very fast. Although I had been very sick and my body had gone through a lot I made it back to the top. I was proud of my achievements but most of all for listening to myself and what I really wanted to do, and trusting in that.
BM: Do you have a message for your fans back in Sweden?
AL: Everything is possible! Dare to dream and believe in yourself!