Lawrence Okolie's focus is on Rio Olympics, but the Dagenham Boxing Club member and University of East London student aims to be a world great!
PUBLISHED: 11:00 06 August 2016
Hackney heavyweight believes moving to Dagenham BC helped him become an elite and he is desperate to make his people proud in Brazil
Lawrence Okolie is hoping to follow in the footsteps of various other Great Britain boxers and win an Olympic gold medal before going on to conquer the world, but he doesn’t feel under any pressure in Rio.
The 23-year-old booked his spot at the Games when he won his semi-final against Abdulkadir Abdullayev during a European Qualifying event at Turkey.
He needed to finish in the top three of his heavyweight category and claimed the gold medal after French opponent Paul Omba Biongolo decided to withdraw from the final.
Now Hackney’s Okolie, a member of the Dagenham Boxing Club and student at the University of East London, is determined to write his name in lights at the Olympics, with the boxing action starting on Saturday and running until August 21.
He said: “I have goals for life even after boxing so the Olympics is a massive deal and not something I’m overlooking by any stretch of the imagination.
“I’m going to put everything I can into winning it, but it is not the be-all and end-all. The Olympics are another stepping stone for me, I want to get a gold medal and go on to win a world title and unify divisions and then move on to other stuff outside of boxing.”
If it sounds like Okolie is playing down how important the Rio Games are, then I can safely say that is not the case.
The UEL student has worked extremely hard to reach this point, but having only taken up the sport to lose weight, he doesn’t feel pressure.
Once he did take up boxing, Okolie instantly struck a bond with the sport and loved the friendly, helpful atmosphere.
“I wasn’t really into sports much when I was growing up. I only got into it when I started boxing,” said the heavyweight.
“When I was 17 I got into it and looked at people like Muhammad Ali and Lennox Lewis because I was quite a big guy. They were the ones I looked up to, but as I got more into it – I started liking the skill set of people like Roy Jones Jnr and Floyd Mayweather.
“I only got into boxing as a way of losing weight. I was around 120kg (just under 19 stones) when I started, so it was just a way for a young guy to lose weight. Once I walked into the gym I fell in love with it and remember hearing the bags getting hit.
“The hard part was walking into the gym for the first time, but once I was in there everything was great because all the people are good. What you find in boxing is people are quite friendly.
“It is an aggressive sport by nature, but the people involved are gentlemen. It was easy enough to get involved and drop weight.”
Okolie started off at Lion ABC, before moving to Repton, and the 23-year-old believes he matured at the famous Bethnal Green gym.
He then switched to Dagenham, and although Okolie enjoyed his time at Repton, he feels it was only when he linked up with Dan O’Sullivan at Dagenham that he began to realise his incredible potential.
“When I went to Repton I had seven fights, I was still a novice,” he added. “But going there, it’s steeped in history, they have had some high-class boxers who were ABA-level, England and some internationals so going there gave me a benchmark to look at and push on. I did feel myself grow up as I was at Repton, but Dagenham has been good for me.
“That was where everything changed. They promote an ethos of pushing yourself to the limit and working hard. I felt like everything gelled at Dagenham.
“I saw myself go from a novice to an elite level. It’s been fantastic because they have good people there and that sort of energy pushes me on as a person.”
While Dagenham Boxing Club have been great for Okolie, him qualifying for the Olympics has created history for O’Sullivan and the local club.
The gold medal hopeful is Dagenham’s first Olympic boxer since 1952 and he’s proud of that feat.
He added: “As much as boxing is an individual sport and it’s all about me, stuff like being Dagenham’s first Olympian in 64 years does motivate me.
“When I’m training in the changing room, or about to walk out to a fight, I think about how much bigger these fights are than just myself and use it to help me.
“If I think about myself alone before a fight I find it hard to really get myself up. It is just another fight, but when I think about my family, my friends and my community it gives me that extra push. It shows me no matter how much my opponent wants it, I want it more and not only for me, but for my people.”
The University of East London has also “massively helped” with the development of Okolie and he feels training at their facilities helped him get ready for GB level.
UEL were kind enough to allow the Hackney boxer to defer the third year of his Psychosocial Studies degree to concentrate on the Rio Olympics.
And after qualifying for the Games, he will now aim to follow in the footsteps of his friend Anthony Joshua and win gold at the Olympics.
Okolie said: “We started off sparring together, but where he is such a down-to-earth and humble guy, he has been a great influence on my boxing career.
“It grew into a friendship and he is absolutely a role model. He has mapped out a blueprint for how any of us GB boxers can do it.
“I was fortunate enough to get into the system of Great Britain boxers and perform at this level, so now I’m going to the Olympics.
“Joshua won gold in 2012 and now he’s got a world title, so I’ve seen what winning a gold at the Olympics can do for someone.
“James DeGale is another to have won a gold medal and gone on to get a world title. Obviously I don’t know him on a personal level so can’t grab much from him.
“Where I know Joshua I can see the structure in place and the way things can work so I’m happy to be on that path.”
Okolie has a chance to achieve greatness in Rio and judging by his rapid progress, you wouldn’t bet against a gold coming his way.