Gypsy Boxer Is Aiming For Olympic Glory
Billy Joe Saunders is on a mission. From a travellers’ site in Hatfield to the Olympic Games in Beijing, the teenager will go to China as a figurehead of the Romany community and Britain’s boxing renaissance.
But Saunders is also on a more personal crusade after admitting the absence of his girlfriend Ruby and young son Billy Joe Jnr from the Games is inspiring him to bring home a gold medal.
At 18 the youngest member of the record eight-strong team competing at the Games, Saunders has spent weeks trawling the internet in an attempt to find rooms for his family but without success.
‘My dad Tomis coming out to watch but I haven’t been able to find anywhere for my girlfriend and boy, who is 12 months old,’ says Saunders. ‘Some places were available, like hostels, but I wasn’t having them stay there. Other places have quoted me up to five grand, which is too much, so they’ll be watching on the telly back home and spurring me on.’
A traveller has never competed in the world’s biggest sporting event, but Saunders will make history by becoming the most prominent member of a boxing family whose living pedigree goes right back to a 96-year-old great-grandfather who once fought in bareknuckle bouts in fairground booths.
His emergence as a medal candidate in the welterweight division is just one of the success stories in a Team GB squad who, thanks in no small part to new funding geared towards London 2012, boast eight contenders just four years after Amir
Khan went to Athens on his own and came back with a silver medal.
‘I’m the first traveller to ever qualify for an Olympic games,’ said Saunders. ‘Like Asians and blacks and other groups of people, travellers have this image, but I just want to do well and make people proud of me.
‘I’ve known a few travelling lads who would have been a million times better than me if
they had stuck with it. It’s not an easy route I’ve taken, but I’ve been boxing 13 years and this is what it all boils down to. It’s bigger than a world title. The Olympics is the biggest thing on the planet.
‘It’s great to be a figurehead. My family are over the moon. Boxing has been in my blood since I was born. My dad was a boxer and my great-grandad boxed in the fairground booths. He was a champion.
‘He forgets himself now and then, but he still passes on the odd word or two of advice. He knows his stuff. It was a totally different sport but you’ve still got to have the bravery and the heart to step into the ring.’
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