Nicola Adams talks about becoming the first female to box for England at 18 years old, in the first of three interviews with women in amateur boxing who are at the top of their game

Arriving at the Middleton campus of Hopwood Hall College near Rochdale and roughly eight miles from Manchester, Nicola Adams isn’t quite what you’d expect in the way of top women’s boxers. But although she cuts a slight figure, 21-year-old Nicola certainly packs a punch and has been doing just that since the age of 12. “I started going to the gym with my mum in Leeds and they were running a boxing session for kids,” she explains. “I joined in with that and never looked back really.” Although she started out doing it just for fun, Nicola had her first bout for Leeds Star ABC a year later, which she won. “After that, I had a few more fights and then I became the first female to box for England – when I was 18 against Ireland. I won on the ‘out class rule’, which is where you get a 15 point gap and they stop the contest.” Fighting at bantamweight (54kg), Nicola has been ever present in the England team since the age of 18, winning one gold medal, two silvers and two bronzes. “The last silver I won was in the European Championships and I was the first ever English female to get a medal at a major tournament. My mum has all my medals on display – mums like that sort of thing. I like breaking records!” When she’s not breaking records, Nicola is a student at Hopwood Hall College, a sporting academy, where she studies sports training, leadership, psychology and health and safety. She now boxes for Hard and Fast ABC in Barnsley and trains three times a day, Monday to Friday. “I train first thing in the morning, in the afternoon and then on the night. And in between that I have to fit in my lessons.” Throughout her career to date, family and friends have been right behind her: “My mum was absolutely fine about my boxing – she was happy that I was doing something constructive and not messing about on the streets. My friends all supported me and they still come to my fights now.” And what kind of show do her friends get when they turn up to see her in action? “I’ve knocked a couple of opponents out but it usually goes to points. People think you know when you’re going to knock someone out but you don’t – you hit them and they’re on the floor. The first time I did it, I was like ‘What’s going on?’ I didn’t even think I’d thrown a powerful shot. “Whereas men’s boxing can be a little ‘I’m gonna knock you out’, we tend to focus more on the technique. Women’s boxing is a lot more technical.” Next on the agenda for Nicola are, of course, the London 2012 Olympics, where women’s boxing will appear for the first time. There’s also the Commonwealth Games in 2010 but the London Olympics is the main attraction: “We’re in our home country so we’ll have loads of support – it’ll be fantastic to win a medal in London.” After that, Nicola says she probably wants to turn professional but before that there’s the 2008 World Championships. And with high profile women boxers like Nicola, Amanda Coulson and Lucy Abel, schools will find it hard to resist the demands from more and more girls to let them have a shot in the ring. Nicola explains: “Teachers need to be more open-minded – if there’s kids that want to they should be allowed to have a go. Even if they just want to do it for fitness – there’s loads of boxercise classes out now. A lot of girls start out just doing fitness and boxercise and then decide that they want to go on to do the competitions.” At the moment, Nicola is ranked fifth in the World and third in Europe, which is an amazing feeling: “To think how many countries there are in the world and I’m ranked fifth is incredible. To succeed you have to be really focused and try not to let anything stand in your way – keep at it and don’t get down when you get things wrong. Go back to the gym, work on the faults and what went wrong and the next time you’ll come back and beat them. “I lost to Russia in the European Championships by two points to the World Champion – but I’ll get her back!”

And you know – she probably will.