New Zealand boxing's Olympic charm offensive

CHARM OFFENSIVE: Flyweight Siona Fernandes and lightweight Alexis Pritchard.
CHARM OFFENSIVE: Flyweight Siona Fernandes and lightweight Alexis Pritchard.

Say what you like about the inclusion of women's boxing at the Olympics, but New Zealand's two fighters were certainly able to turn on the entertainment outside the ring yesterday.

Tiny flyweight Siona Fernandes and tall lightweight Alexis Pritchard took off the gloves and turned on the charm at the media centre in London.

Fernandes comes with a good story. Born in India and the size of a grasshopper, she took up the sport two and bit years ago only after a previous career as a classical dancer.

Did she ever for one minute as a dancer think she would be boxing for New Zealand at the Olympics?

“One minute is too long to imagine that, not even a second,” she says.

Fernandes is a personal trainer at Les Mills gym in Auckland. A boxing gym sits next door and 2 years ago she wandered in and asked to punch a bag.

“I thought, ‘I might not be much good at this, but I will give it a go', and I ended up punching the bag harder than anybody else, and it was like, ‘what's up with this chick?'.”

She believes her dancing background has been of benefit to her boxing career.Both sports require footwork, balance, co-ordination and focus, she says.

“In classical dancing you don't have any beats. You create the beat with your footwork , so there is a lot of agility, speed, power with the legs, and boxing is all about power in the legs."

Fernandes seems fearless. She does not worry about being knocked unconscious and claims to enjoy sparring with men. For the past three weeks she has been at a training camp in Cardiff that comprises many Olympic-bound male fighters from Africa and Latin America.

“Sparring guys in the camp in Cardiff was no surprise to me. I was like, ‘bring it'.

“I like sparring boys because they don't pull back. The guys in Cardiff said, ‘she fights like a dude'.”

Her medal hopes are slim, not that she needs to be told. Today she is “overweight”, needing to lose 2kg to get down to 51kg for Friday's weigh-in (Saturday morning NZ time).

“I'll eat nothing, keep smiling, drink heaps of water. It won't be a problem.”

Pritchard is South African-born, but still managed to “get emotional" when she was greeted at the Olympic village with a haka.

She has a ready-made smile and a good perspective on life. She dislikes people that knock women's boxing.

“I think women have the potential to do anything and I would encourage all little girls to do what they want to do.

“We can't help that some people are a little close-minded as to what females can and can't do.

“I hope to show them what we can do and change their opinion a little bit."

Pritchard takes photos of the media with her phone in between questions. In doing so, she gets a look from New Zealand coach Cameron Todd, who just happens to be her husband of four years.

Todd prepares eight fighters in Auckland and two here for the August 6-10 competition. He claims “each boxer gets the same time”.

“You can't be husband and wife in these situations,” Todd said.

“It can be difficult, so we deal with the fallout when we get home.

“There were a few people funny about it at the start but we keep it as professional as possible. There are a lot of husband-and-wife combinations.”

He doesn't worry about his wife being knocked out. “Women boxers fight with great skill rather than power,” he says. “At the last Olympics there were 280 (male) bouts and only five knockouts. In amateur boxing you don't see a lot.”

As for the medal prospects of Fernandes and his wife, he hopes the work is done.

Fairfax Media