'Large lady' fights for Liverpool
Natasha Jonas is determined to take a special place among Liverpool’s sports heroes.
The city, known for its football starts, has also produced its fair share of boxing champions over the years. Jonas hopes to be among them at the end of the 2012 London Olympic Games.
She qualified to compete in the first Olympic women’s boxing competition when she participated at the world championships for females in Qinhuangdao, China, in May.
For her, it was the culmination of a long journey in which she had to battle sexism, shed more than 10 kg in weight and shatter the dreams of a close friend.
It is a fair bet that few of famous fighters from Liverpool could match the dazzling smile that broke across the 27-year-old's face when it was announced she had booked a place in the Olympic boxing tournament.
"It's a great feeling to come and do what I wanted to do," she said. "To know that I’ll be going out in front of 10 000 people and they're all going to be cheering for me for a change is just unreal.
"I just can't wait to get on that stage and show everybody what women's boxing is all about.
"Don't expect anything less than a medal; that's what I'm there for."
Growing up in the tough inner-city area of Toxteth, Jonas was always keen on sport but her original ambition was to make a career out of football.
After a ligament injury ended that dream, she turned to martial arts before starting boxing at Liverpool's Rotunda amateur club in 2005.
"She wasn't really accepted at the beginning. She was the first woman to walk through the doors at the Rotunda," a family friend, Robert Douglas, recalled recently.
"They had a great tradition of producing boxers there but they'd never had a woman before.
SHE WAS A LARGE LADY
"She was a large lady and she was just throwing very, very straight punches with no diversity. But she kept improving, winning, sparring with the big boys and never complaining about any shots she took,” said Douglas, a former media officer at the club.
Jonas dealt with the problem of how to inform her family she had taken up boxing by simply not telling them.
"She didn't tell me,” says her father, Terry Jonas. “She had six fights at the Rotunda before one of the coaches discovered it was my daughter and phoned me.
"She's been around gyms since she was young. She did karate, kickboxing and Thai boxing for a while, but she got a little disheartened because there wasn't much competition for her. She really likes competition."
The announcement in 2009 that women's boxing would make its Olympic debut in London upped the competition level among British boxers, particularly as only three weights would be contested.
Jonas, who started boxing at middleweight, has won four national and two European Union titles at welterweight but was forced to move down to lightweight to compete in London.
It looked like a tall order, given that Amanda Coulson, one of the leading lights in British amateur boxing, was also bidding to qualify in that class.
Ultimately, Jonas won the personal battle with her friend to claim a spot on the British team for the Qinhuangdao world championships, which doubled as the Olympic qualifiers.
HAD TO BREAK THEIR DREAMS
Jonas did not, however, forget her British rivals in her moment of triumph. "They've done exactly the same work I have. It's just unfortunate that I had to break their dreams," she said.
"I did it for my family, I did it for my friends, I did it for everybody who supported me but I also did it for those girls, especially Amanda, as we've been so close for so long."
Eight Olympic lightweight berths were up for grabs in China, but regional quotas meant Jonas was sure of qualifying only after winning her quarterfinal bout.
Her father yelled, "Get in, Tash! Get in!" as he charged around the gallery above the ring at the Qinhuangdao Olympic stadium.
"I couldn't be prouder. I had her mother on the phone, crying; her grandmother running round the house like a lunatic. What a day!" he recalled.
"I'm delighted for Natasha because I don't think many people can say they've fulfilled their dreams.
"This shouldn't be the end for her. This is just a stepping stone," he added, before excusing himself to go and get "a big, sweaty hug" from his daughter.
Douglas, the co-producer of a British television documentary charting the attempts of three boxers trying to
qualify for the Olympics, was almost as emotional.
"The whole of Liverpool is proud of Natasha Jonas and now it's going to be the whole of Britain because what we have now is a real superstar in the making," he said. "She deserves everything she gets. She's spectacular."