In the latest of our Tokyo Eight athlete series, boxer Clarke reveals the 2020 lockdown has helped him develop his mindset and conditioning
With the Olympic Games frozen in time for a year, and Team GB training halted, super heavyweight boxer Frazer Clarke returned home and built a gym in his garage. It meant a complete lifestyle change.
“It was the longest time I’ve spent in one place in the last ten years,” says Clarke, one of the Telegraph’s Tokyo Eight athletes. “We’ve been either on GB Team training [in Sheffield], or in Russia, the Ukraine, Kazakhstan… any hard terrain you can find, that’s where they send me. But it was lovely to spend that time with my partner and my daughter.”
But it meant remedial action, too, to accommodate his makeshift gym: “The garage saved me a lot of the time. But I really enjoyed training at home. That said, I was also glad to get back being around other athletes.”
There were also, according to Clarke, plusses from the Olympics and training being cancelled. “If you take anything good out of this whole pandemic, it’s definitely made me appreciate my family more,” he says. “You get caught up in this mad world of boxing, it takes over. It isn’t five days a week, it’s 24/7, weekends and birthdays.”
Clarke then went to San Diego for winter training a couple of weeks back. “It meant missing my daughter’s fourth birthday. My partner was due to have a scan, I missed that. People don’t tell you about this when you start boxing.”
Getting back to the hard work in Sheffield through the autumn though helped him initially get back on track. “I’d like to say I’ve got that 100 per cent discipline at home but I’d be lying,” admits Clarke. “I’m a fighter who likes to have structure, disciplined coaches around me because I seem to train better and live a better lifestyle. I need telling. It seems to work a lot better for me. I’m just about back to where I was when we all went home.”
He adds: “I make a bold statement in saying I wouldn’t be the person I am today without GB boxing. I consider myself to be a nice person, respectful person. I don’t just credit my parents anymore, even though they gave me the foundation, GB boxing structured my life and the way I am now. Everything I do I can reflect back to this place.
“They’ve been behind me in the good and bad times. Any 18 to 20-year-old boxer who gets the opportunity to represent their country and come into this structure, my advice would be to do it because it sends you in the right direction.”
The year delay to the qualifying tournament [now on April 22-26 in London] has actually helped too, reasoned Clarke. “At first I thought it was a disadvantage because I was upset and I was thinking about my emotions. Thinking about it now and looking back at me in March, I wasn’t even 70 per cent of the fighter I needed to be. You don’t see that until you look back. When I look back at my sparring videos, my running times, my weight, my condition, I can’t believe I was going into the qualifiers so unprepared.
“Even though I felt prepared in my head and I’m sure I would have qualified, it’s an advantage now. Looking back, I was nowhere near prepared. Second time round, I’ll get it right. My aim was to just qualify. That’s still my ambition now but my new mindset is I want to go to the Olympic qualifier, and I want to beat everyone. Make a statement, win the gold medal, get a good seed for Tokyo.
“This Olympics is a special one because we’ve had a pandemic and the world will remember this one. It sounds bad off the back of a pandemic, but in this one you could become a bigger star than ever before. I’m not sure there will be many people there, so there will be a lot of eyes on it.”
Clarke had decent sparring in November, too, with Anthony Joshua ahead of his successful world title defence against Kubrat Pulev. Joshua, says Clarke, has “come on leaps and bounds”.
“I’ve been sparring with him and I can 100 per cent tell you, he is the best Anthony Joshua I’ve ever seen. And I’ve sparred with him since the day he turned pro – and before that. He’s definitely improved. He’s willing to learn and has learned. That Andy Ruiz defeat has definitely done so much for him. We always knew Anthony Joshua could knock someone out, but can he box someone for 12 rounds? I think the fighting style he’s adopted now, I knew he could outbox Pulev. It’s a new skillset, a new version of him.”
Perhaps the biggest statement Clarke makes to The Daily Telegraph are his plans post-Tokyo will mark the end of his amateur days. “100 per cent I am going to turn pro. It’s been a goal of mine for a long time. First of all, the Olympics is so important to me and my career. The Olympics can navigate how my career in the pros will go.
Success in Tokyo, he explained can create “an easier career or a very difficult one”.
“You see how a gold medal navigates someone’s journey. After the Olympics, I will 100 per cent be a pro fighter, and my full intention is to launch that on the back of a gold medal. Don’t sleep on me, because I’m coming.”