After becoming only the second Irish woman ever to medal at a European Championships, DCU’s Claire Grace took her next step on the way to the top last month when she appeared in her first World Championships.
It would end in heartbreak, however. And she didn’t even lose a bout.
20-year-old Grace from Tullahought in Kilkenny claimed a bronze medal at the European Championships in Bucharest last June, just days after completing her Sports Science and Health summer exams in DCU.
The world number 10 was forced to withdraw from the Worlds due to a deep cut above her left eye, something that left her devastated after working towards the tournament for so long.
“I was delighted to get the win in the last 32 but the bad cut above my eye meant I had to be pulled out. That was devastating for me,” Grace told The College View.
“It’s the hardest way to come out of the competition, to be honest I’d prefer to have lost than to have been pulled out.”
After receiving the cut during her first round win over Romania’s Christine Stancu, the 20-year-old was treated in hospital and required stitches.
This led to a decision being made that it was unsafe for her to carry on as the injury may have been aggravated more in the following bouts and so she was withdrawn before the last 16.
It was hugely disappointing for Grace and something that took her a while to come to terms with, but she realises that it was the correct decision in the end. Not that it would have stopped her were it her decision.
“It wasn’t really my decision [to withdraw] the coaches pulled me out. I’d definitely just go for it and risk it, especially as I was facing someone I’d beaten before.
“But just because it was so early in the competition, only the last 16, it had to happen. They said if it was for a medal they would have chanced it but it was a fairly bad cut so I would have just been risking making it worse.”
It was still a positive experience for the DCU student however, having been a part of the two week training camp prior to the tournament where she trained with her boxing idol, Katie Taylor.
“It’s a huge honour to get to be in the same team as her. Just to see how focused she is during the competition is amazing. She has such a tunnel vision focus. It’s absolutely amazing to get to train with your hero and train alongside her.”
Grace began boxing in Callan Boxing Club with her brother. At the time she was the only girl there and despite it not being the “done thing”, she fell in love with the sport and hasn’t looked back since.
“When I first started boxing I didn’t know who Katie Taylor was but then she started to become well known. Any sporting athlete would look up to someone who’s so big in the sport and has done so much for women’s boxing so she’s a huge inspiration for all athletes really.”
So does Grace feel that women’s sport, and boxing in particular, gets enough recognition in the public eye, especially as we have an Irish five times world champion?
“I think it’s quite a long way away from being completely equal. Realistically there’s such a big gap. Katie Taylor has done a lot to promote women’s sport being taken seriously but there’s still a long way to go before anything is to be considered equal.
“During the Olympics she [Taylor] got great coverage, she was like the hero for Ireland. But we have to remember that she had won world titles before that and no one really seemed to care much until she won the Olympics.
“She got great coverage after that and I don’t think women’s boxing would be in the Olympics only for her. In terms of coverage yes it definitely has increased. There’s coverage for the rugby team and we’re doing well in soccer.
“But there’s still not that much. For example her final wasn’t on RTÉ or anything. There is a huge way to go, it’s not equal at all but it has definitely improved.”
Speaking of equality Grace says it would be a dream to compete in the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro but there’s just one problem: her weight of 69kg is not considered an Olympic sport.
“There’s ten weights for men in the Olympics and only three for women so that’s not really fair, especially when you’re in one of the weights that’s not in the Olympics,” she says.
“I’d have to go up a weight because Katie Taylor is the weight below me. I’d have to go up to middleweight so that would be a huge amount of work to build the muscle which wouldn’t be easy at all.”
So questions remain over whether or not we will be seeing Grace in Rio in two years but one thing is for certain: Katie Taylor won’t be the only Irish name on the list of women’s boxing’s best in years to come.
Image Credit: Sportsfile