Monday, 08 August 2022

Man helping GB boxers to be ready for the ring in Rio

STEVEN ESOM is the man who has helped make sure Great Britain’s boxers have the best

STEVEN ESOM is the man who has helped make sure Great Britain’s boxers have the best chance of winning medals at the Olympic Games in Rio.

He is chairman of the British Amateur Boxing Association, the organisation responsible for nurturing the early careers of the sport’s stars, such as Amir Khan and Anthony Joshua.

Most of the 10 male boxers in the GB squad will join the professional ranks after Brazil and some have been honing their skills in the amateur ranks for up to five years.

Mr Esom, 55, who lives in Fair Mile, Henley, had little experience of boxing when he was asked to chair the association in 2013, having spent most of his career in retailing.

The invitation came as a result of his work with the Prince’s Trust, for whom he chaired a committee.

He says: “I had been head of the Food Standards Agency and had chaired a committee there.

“I think you get known and they wanted someone with a fresh approach who could maybe look at boxing in a different way.”

Mr Esom, who is currently chairman of the British Retail Consortium, has been involved in the retail sector since the Eighties.

He started at Sainsbury’s as a graduate trainee after graduating from Swansea University.

He spent about 10 years at Sainsbury’s and another 12 at Waitrose, where he was director of buying from 1995 to 2002 and then managing director for five years.

The father of two teenagers, he moved from West London to Kingwood, near Peppard, in the early Noughties while working for Bracknell-based Waitrose and later moved to Henley.

When he was invited to chair the amateur boxing association, Mr Esom was told the role would require his business skills.

He says: “My background is in high performance organisations and sport is no different to business.

“It’s about having the best people and picking the best athletes. Getting that mixture is the key to success.

“I make sure we have the best coach, the best performance director and best chief executive. We make sure everyone is following their plan — it’s just like a business.

“We want to make sure the boxers win and that we are giving them the right guidance.

“The boxer has to be prepared mentally and physically and we’re making sure they get that extra 10th of a per cent. That’s what could give them a competitive advantage. We do the fine details.”

Mr Esom works closely with chief executive Matt Holt and performance director Rob McCracken, who coached former super-middleweight world champion Carl Froch for 13 years.

He goes up to the boxers’ training base at the British Institute of Sport in Sheffield once a month and speaks to the staff on the phone several times a week.

“I try to watch the training sessions once a month but the coaches don’t like visitors,” says Mr Esom. “They work the boxers hard and every session is a test.” The walls of the gym are lined with pictures of previous Olympic medal winners, including Khan, Joshua and Luke Campbell, who won gold as a bantamweight at London 2012 and has since turned professional.

There is also a photo of Nicola Adams, who became the first woman to become an Olympic boxing champion at London 2012 and will be competing again in Brazil.

“There is a real sense of history and heritage,” says Mr Esom. “The boxers know that and wanting to be part of it is part of getting to Rio and Tokyo after that.

“When you see the guys come in five years ago and then become a potential medal winner, you do it as a family.

“When I spoke with some of the squad a few weeks ago they said they had never dreamt about putting on the Team GB shirt and representing their country. It’s such a massive thing.

“Not just them but also their families. You see people put all that effort, perseverance and dedication into it.”

Part of his role is looking to the future in order to make sure Great Britain’s boxers have the best chance of winning in Japan in 2020.

Mr Esom says: “In the run-up to the Olympics there is a lot going on but we’re also planning for the next Games.

“We’ve got to start finding the boxers for then and bringing them through. We always look years in advance.

“Then you find someone with potential and you make sure you teach them all the skills they need to progress.

“It’s an unusual Olympic sport because of the number of cycles. A rower usually does two or three or even four Olympics. With boxing they rarely do more than two.

“If they’re very successful they become professional immediately afterwards.

“We look for people to be part of the whole programme and then we can fund them for three or four years. It’s great to train someone to reach their potential.

“We probably carry 20 per cent over into the next cycle, mainly those at the younger end.

“Nicola Adams has done another cycle but many of the men go on to the professional sport. We hope to keep a sufficient number but people do get tempted away.”

Mr Esom says boxing is one of the few Olympic sports which can change the life of an athlete if he or she is successful as a professional and can earn them millions of pounds.

“It’s not only the boxer’s life that can be changed but their family’s too,” he says.

Over the next Olympiad he wants to focus particularly on growing the number of women who take part in the sport.

There are just two women in the current squad across the three weight categories — Adams, who is hoping to retain her flyweight title, and  25-year-old Savannah Marshall, a middleweight.

“With the next cycle what I would really like to do is identify a large group of women to come into the sport,” says Mr Esom.

“There are going to be more weights for women, so there will be five or six opportunities for them to win medals rather than the three at the moment.

“We’re good with women’s boxing so we have a better chance of medalling.”

Mr Esom, who boxes himself as part of his fitness regime, won’t be in Rio watching ringside at the 7,500-seater Riocentro as the sport has a limited number of accreditations.

“There are guys much more important than me who are going,” he says. “They are going because it’s best for the team and it’s really important to get the boxers to their best.

“I would love to be out there but I do not think my attendance helps performance like a coach or a dietician but I will be following it closely.”

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