If British Olympic chiefs are bullish about their team’s medal chances in Tokyo this summer, one of the reasons why can be found on an unprepossessing industrial estate in Sheffield.
The English Institute of Sport is sandwiched between the Don Valley Bowl and Sheffield Arena, just off the A6178, but what it may lack in glamour, it more than makes up for in a track record which has made it one of the most formidable talent factories in the world of amateur boxing.
Team GB includes 11 boxers this year – four women, seven men – and it is no exaggeration to claim that they have the potential to be the most successful team ever at an Olympic Games. London nine years ago set the record with three gold medals (including one for the young Anthony Joshua), a silver and a bronze, and this team has the ability to match them, if not better it.
The fighters are talented individuals with the raw materials to be stars, but it is the EIS – led by head coach Rob McCracken – which has honed their skills, something it has been doing ever since it was set up in 2008.
National Lottery funding – the EIS received £15million over the last four year-cycle – has helped. Boxers are supported by an army of nutritionists and psychologists, and analysts who have access to a vast video database of material to help them prepare.
Fighters can sit down at an analysis station with a widescreen television which the coaches can call up at any time to break down video footage of sparring or, as one of the coaches Paul Walmsley points out, watch “a video breakdown on literally any opponent in the world”.
A team of sports scientists constantly develop physiology and performance analysis data to give every fighter an insight into how their bodies respond to training and competition, how to avoid injuries and their mental focus under pressure.