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Darlaston boxing star Ben Whittaker getting ready for a European Games mission

By Matt Maher | Grassroots | Published:

Darlaston boxing ace Ben Whittaker has taken another step toward his Olympic dream after being named in the Great Britain squad for next month’s European Games.

Ben Whittaker is chasing his Olympic dream

The 21-year-old jetted off to Kazakhstan on Thursday for a 10-day training camp ahead of the championships, which begin in Belarus on June 21.

Two-time national amateur champion Whittaker has been selected to fight at 81kgs having enjoyed major success since stepping up in weight last year, following the disappointment of an early exit at the Commonwealth Games.

A strong performance next month would see him qualify for September’s World Championships, where he would have the chance to secure a place at Tokyo 2020.

“It’s a big few months ahead,” said Whittaker. “I had to see off a a lot of competition to get this place but I believe I am one of the best at my weight in the world and this is my chance to prove it.

“The European Games offer the chance to qualify for the worlds and from there you can get to the Olympics.

“It’s the toughest route to get to Tokyo but also the quickest. I know I can do it.”

A member of the GB Boxing podium squad, Whittaker trains four days a week at Sheffield Institute of Sport under the watchful eye of the national coaches.

The rest of his time is spent with long-time coach Joby Clayton at Wolverhampton’s Firewalker ABC.

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Whittaker has not looked back after moving up from 75kgs in the wake of a disappointing showing at last year’s Commonwealth Games.

Having arrived on the Gold Coast as the pre-tournament favourite, he suffered a split decision defeat to Scotland’s John Docherty.

But he is now unbeaten in 13 fights since stepping up to 81kgs and has three gold medals to show for his efforts, including a victory at the European Union Championships.

Such an impressive record means Whittaker will arrive in Belarus a marked man but he is unfazed by the pressure.

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He said: “I was known as a strong fighter at 75kgs. When you move up in weight there are always questions as to how you will handle it but to this point I have answered them all.

“I’ve passed every test so far with flying colours and I am ready for the challenges.”

Whittaker believes the Kazakhstan training camp will offer the best possible preparation ahead of the Games.

“The facilities are excellent and we will be sparring against their No.1 team,” he explained.

“They are one of the best boxing nations in the world and you really could not ask for a better place to go and train.

“After that it will be back home for a few days and then the Games will be upon us.

“It sounds simple but when you are at this level, you just have to keep winning. Every fight is tough and you never know what surprises might be around the corner.

“But at the moment I am doing everything asked of me. The coaches have picked me for a reason and I now have to go and show what that is.”

A delighted Clayton, who is also Whittaker’s godfather, said: “It is a great honour for Ben to be selected. There are quite a few good fighters at his weight.

“The way he handled the disappointment of the Commonwealth Games was really impressive,” said Clayton.

“It was becoming harder and harder for him to make the weight and it was probably just one fight too far.

“Since then he has got his head down and just gone through the levels. Moving up in weight to 81kgs really seems to have suited him. He looks a better fighter.”

Whittaker was recently on hand to praise the work carried out by the Birmingham-based Pat Benson Boxing Academy in tackling mental health issues in the community.

The gym has been involved in several National Lottery-funded projects over the last 25 years.

“It’s great to see the support the National Lottery are providing a club like this because they have state of the art facilities and it shows they are using it to their full advantage,” he said.

Matt Maher

By Matt Maher
Football MMPJ - @mjmarr_star

Sports journalist for the Express & Star

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