5 MIN READ
In our ongoing ‘Road to the Olympics’ series, BOXRAW speak with some of the most promising Olympic hopefuls on their own paths towards the Games. Next up, Team GB bantamweight Peter McGrail discusses his unique qualifying experience and hopes for Tokyo.
Fighter Fact File
Full name: Peter McGrail
Walk out song: Top Loader - Dancing In The Moonlight
Favourite fighter: Manny Pacquiao
Favourite/best fight: Gatti vs. Ward
Fantasy match-up: Tyson vs. Ali
Cheat meal: Salt and Pepper Chicken
Hobby outside of boxing: Table Tennis
Dream place to fight: Vegas
Favourite punch: Left hand
Best thing about training: Harder you train easier the fight
Years of Sacrifice Worthwhile
"I was worried because I sacrificed years of my career for this Olympics," admits Peter McGrail, one of Team GB’s leading medal hopes for the upcoming Tokyo Games. "So if it didn’t happen I would have been gutted. It was great to qualify."
Bantamweight talent McGrail will be part of an 11-fighter GB Boxing roster that will travel to Japan this summer with the hopes of individually realising a collective dream of becoming Olympic champions.
For the squad and the other nation’s elite fighters around the world, it looked uncertain that they would have the opportunity to fight on amateur boxing’s biggest stage, due to the chaos caused by the global pandemic.
While the majority of Team GB and other European nations were forced to wait over a year to finally book their spot at the rescheduled Games, McGrail found himself involved in a rare situation.
Just minutes before he and his teammates were due to set off for the European Olympic Boxing trials in March last year, Team GB officials were informed that the event (which was into Day 2 and already behind closed doors) would be suspended following that particular day’s action.
The news was a bitter blow for most of his teammates but, for McGrail, hopes were still intact. Already a European and Commonwealth Games Gold medallist, the Liverpool-born fighter needed just one more win to secure his place at Tokyo.
His first bout, at 7.25pm against the Czech Republic’s Kevin Godla, was to be the last. Rallied on by his disappointed but supportive stablemates and coaches, McGrail comprehensively earned a unanimous decision and qualification.
"I have wanted to do this from a young age so to finally do it after so many years of working towards it was amazing," he states, recalling his decisive victory.
Adjusting To Testing Times
Soon after clinching his qualification position, the enormity of the ongoing coronavirus situation became clear for everyone.
The Games were eventually postponed from last year’s initial schedule to this year’s imminent July 23rd date, while fighters such as McGrail were forced to undertake a new way of training.
"It was a bad time as there were no fights for a while and the Olympics got cancelled," he explains.
"But I carried on training. I have equipment set up at my home with a punch bag, weights, Wattbike and kettlebells. I kept on it and kept myself busy. It was a good time to spend time with my family as I am always away training or fighting with Team GB too."
Times are still far from normality and the impacts of the pandemic are still being felt across the sporting world - including boxing.
The Olympics will thankfully be going ahead, much to the relief of McGrail and his Team GB squad mates, but their bids for medal success won’t be fought out in front of family or friends; with crowds not permitted at the event as a result of safety measures.
"It is nothing new to fight in front of no crowds." McGrail adds reassuringly. "We have been doing this since we started fighting internationally in mad countries with nobody there with just your teammates, coaches and judges. I think everybody will be professional enough to not let it affect them."
Dealing With Medal Pressure
Describing himself as “very fast, hard to hit clean with great movement and powerful”, McGrail is a hugely talented technical fighter who has drawn comparisons with two-time Olympic Gold medallist and three-weight world champion Vasyl Lomachenko.
The Ukrainian great is someone McGrail has long looked up to and aims to emulate in the ring.
"Vasyl Lomachenko has went through the same circuit as me in the amateurs and eventually went on to become world champion. That is the ultimate goal after becoming Olympic champion."
As was the case with ‘Loma’ and other past amateur greats heading into The Games, pressure is mounted and expectations are high with regards to placing on the podium and coming home with medals.
It’s a situation that McGrail now finds himself in too, as he prepares for the biggest tournament of his career as one of the leading hopes to clinch a Gold medal.
"I have always believed in myself from a young age so, for everyone else to believe in me too, it doesn’t add pressure. It actually adds drive and confidence which will help me become victorious. I’m feeling great, training is going well and I can’t wait to get out to Tokyo and show the world what I’m about."
McGrail has showcased his eye-catching skills on the big stage across six years within the Team GB squad, medaling at the majority of the major events he’s competed at. That experience will prove vital this summer as he works towards what would be the most prestigious honour of his young career yet.
"This was brilliant because it was such a great experience to fight in major tournaments and they are like little warm-up for the biggest of all - the Olympic Games. Also, it is great to medal at them because it gives you great confidence and belief in your ability to progress further and get better."
Now 25 years of age, McGrail first stepped into his amateur club of Everton Red Triangle at the age of just 10; having already sacrificed so much in his pursuit of Olympic success and what he is planning to be future professional rewards.
"As soon as possible," he replies, when asked about swapping the amateurs for the paid ranks.
"Especially with the Olympics being put back a year, it will be great to get my professional career going right away."
While Olympic glory would be the result of lifelong work to this point, The Games are also a beneficial gateway to a lucrative professional career for McGrail and the country’s other top prospects, as he finishes off by confidently outlining his goals.
"Short term; Olympic gold. Long term; pro world champion."
Header image: Sam Mellish