07 April – by Neil Pritchard
It was a confident and relaxed Darren Sutherland that spoke to irish-boxing.com ahead of the Ireland squads April 5th trip to Athens for the final Olympic qualifier. With the hard work done, the nine-man team were now down to fine-tuning prior to the final push for those coveted places on the flight to Beijing.
Preparations have gone really well, said the national middleweight champion.
I was still fit from the seniors, which were in January and each tournament has just followed on. Im really happy with the way training has gone, and Im confident and looking forward to it. The final week is mainly just tapering, a lot of high intensity but low duration work. Youre not going to get any fitter a week before the fight. The last couple of days are a case of just watching your weight and working on individual things. The confidence in Sutherland was plain to see as he discussed the competition he will be facing when he gets to Athens.
I was the highest ranked fighter in the previous qualifying tournament in Italy last February where unfortunately I missed out by a point. You cant underestimate any of the opponents, but unless something happens out of my control such as injury or a lucky punch, Im happy that good performance should see me through.
Sutherland was only too happy to discuss his controversial one point loss in Italy to Englands James DeGale, a fighter he had beaten three times previously. However, past disappointments were in no way going to detract him from the job in hand and the belief in his own ability is still there for all to see.
Im not going make too much of it to be honest. I have the fight on video and would welcome anyone to watch it and tell me I lost the fight. Its not something I have control over. I was happy with how I boxed which is why Im not going to beat myself up over it. There will be no seeding system in Beijing and well all be in the same boat, so as long as I qualify its all water under the bridge. My mentality has changed over the past three or four months. Im really enjoying my boxing and I dont feel any pressure. You have to take the good with the bad and as long I can get in and out of the ring and say Ive given my all then Im happy.
One ocassion where the St Saviours clubman feels he didnt do himself justice was in last years World Championships.
I didnt do myself justice. I underperformed and put myself under pressure. Since then Ive addressed many issues and now Im really enjoying my boxing again. If Id qualified back then the issues wouldnt have been dealt with. Im now a better boxer for those experiences.
This positive outlook ahead of the trip to Athens was also reflective across the whole team. Morale in the camp has been very good, he beamed. The buzz word in the camp at the moment is performance. As long as you can put in the best performance you can and get out of the ring saying you left it all in there then the results will look after themselves.
You cant go worrying about the draw, judges or referees, thats all wasted energy. The only thing you have control over is yourself and how you prepare and perform. If we perform well theres no reason why we cant get two or three more qualifiers.
While no one would begrudge Sutherland a few weeks of relaxation after the strains of an Olympic trial, the DCU Student has more pressing issues to attend to on his return. Currently in his second year of a Sports Science degree, Sutherland will be swapping his boxing gloves for the books in preparation for his forthcoming exams.
DCU have been really good to me. They are so facilitative and understanding of my ambitions in boxing. They understand that I am a high achiever both academically and in my sport. Ive had great help from a Physiologist in DCU called Giles Warrington. Hes been like my mentor and I meet with him weekly. Hes been helping me balance my education with my training. I am three subjects off completing the current year. When I come back on April 15 I am going straight into a three-week crash course on the three subjects. The exams start in the second week of May, so I come back and its straight into the hard graft – which will also be a nice distraction. My goals are not just to qualify for the Olympics but to also complete the second year of my degree.
While there are numerous goals in the boxing ring that are well within Sutherlands reach, this does not prevent him from looking forward to future ambitions when he does finally hang up the gloves.
As much as I love what Im doing now, there is a life after boxing. In the future Id like to work in the sports industry as a strength and conditioning coach working with elite athletes. I have a plan mapped out and its more a matter of when as opposed to if. It would be nice to have the experience and practical knowledge of being an Olympian and competing at a higher level so that I can come back and pass on that knowledge. For the moment though, Sutherlands focus is primarily on the challenge that faces him in Athens.
Im really enjoying and embracing what Im doing and as a result I think I going to put in better performances. Im going to be 26 on April 18 so Im hoping that Olympic qualification will be an early birthday present to myself.