When it comes to making Olympic super-heavyweights, there has been no greater production line than being in the Great Britain boxing squad. Frazer Clarke is the latest big man to carry the expectations of Team GB, but living up to that pressure can take a toll.
This golden age of British super-heavyweights began in 2000, when Audley Harrison won gold in Sydney. In Beijing, in 2008, David Price claimed a bronze medal. Then Anthony Joshua struck gold in London in 2012 and Joe Joyce won silver in 2016 in Rio de Janeiro.
Clarke has been on the squad for 12 years, being groomed for taking his chance. When Joyce went professional, leaving Clarke as the No 1, things were not so straightforward, and he found his form and discipline began to slip.
But, at 29, Clarke believes he will not only earn himself a place at the Tokyo 2020 Games in 2021 via the boxing qualifiers this week in Paris (live on Olympics.com), but that he will make the podium there as well.
“I feel I am the forgotten man, because I have been here so long,” Clarke said. “I had a dip in form a couple of years ago and results were not going my way. I’ve had good wins but people feel like I am an amateur journeyman… I’m not. If anyone thinks I am not a serious medal contender for Tokyo, they have lost their mind.
“Since Christmas, I have been to two tournaments, won two gold medals, six wins, good opponents, some demons I have got rid of and I am in a good position. I like to be quietly creeping along minding my own business.
“The Russians, the Kazakh, the Uzbek, the American, let them have all the limelight. Little fat Frazer Clarke from Burton-on-Trent is going to produce a shock. People are going to say ‘oh my God, that guy who has been on there for 10-12 years, he wasn’t just there to take part, he was prepared to go and win the Olympic Games’, because that is what I am going to do’.
“People are going to think I have gone crazy, ‘you can’t beat [Bakhodir] Jalolov’. Yes I can. I’ve beaten him before and I will beat him again.”
Clarke: From London to Rio to Tokyo?
Clarke was in Rio as a sparring partner for Joyce. He had been competing with Joyce for the spot and had even helped Joshua prepare for London four years before. After Joyce left the set-up, Clarke’s main contender was Daniel Dubois, but when Dubois, then a teenager, decided to go professional too, there was no obvious rival.
“That was the worst thing that happened to me,” he said. “Me and Daniel would have gone head to head to be the No 1 to go to the majors. because even though I am more experienced, he was improving at a rapid rate and you need that.
“The first two cycles I was here, I was chasing Joshua and chasing Joyce. Don’t get me wrong, I was nowhere near Joshua, and with Joyce, I was closing the gap, but he kept winning as well, so it was near-impossible to get to him, because he was a kingpin of amateur boxing. He didn’t look great at it, but he did it well.”
“But being the No 1, I didn’t really know how to do it. I suppose it is like being a world champion in the pros, you can’t take your foot off the gas, you just have to keep going because people are chasing you down. That was happening to me. My times on the track were getting worse, my sparring was getting worse, but competitions were getting worse.”
With no one to push him, Clarke struggled to stay motivated. And it was only some hard words from Robert McCracken, who is the GB performance director, as well as Joshua’s coach, the put him back on the right path.
“I went stale, to be honest,” Clarke said. “It was a job. I was on here to get paid every week and get through things. My motivation was down, I wasn’t living the right life.
“I don’t want to sound like Tyson Fury, but women, drink, and other things take you on the wrong path. I put that all down to myself, I lost discipline. In this place you shouldn’t really lose discipline, because you are surrounded by pure athletes and great coaches. Being on here for so long, probably took a toll on me.
“It was only when I had a good chat with Rob McCracken and he said ‘you could go on and be a great success, or you could be one of those guys who was on the GB squad and did all right’. I never want to be that person. I have got a family to look after, so being a nearly man is something I don’t want to be regarded as. Once I looked in the mirror, spoke to the right people, I got a new phase of life, I feel like the old Big Fraze – I’m laughing, I’m excited and the main things is, I’m fit. I’m never going to be ripped up like Anthony Joshua, but I am in good shape.
“The break we had for the coronavirus did me the world of good, not just physically but mentally. It put me in a good place and I have come back with another lease of life. Since Christmas, I knew this was the last chance for me. Not the last chance completely, because in a few months’ time I am going to do good things again when all this is over. I didn’t leave GB in 2016 because I didn’t want to look back and think ‘what if?’ I am going to give it all in the next couple of weeks.”
Boxing qualifier in Paris the key for Clarke
Without a high ranking as a back-up, Clarke knows he must reach the semi-finals in Paris to earn his spot in Tokyo. That means he must win his first bout against Marko Milun, from Croatia, and then beat the winner of a bout between Aleksandar Mraovic, of Austria, and Turkey’s Berat Acar.
Clarke has beaten Milun before, at the European Union Championships in 2018, but Milun, who won a bronze medal at the European Games in 2019, is seeded No 2.
“The fight with the Croatian is probably the toughest one in the tournament for me,” Clarke said. “I boxed him in 2018, when I wasn’t in good form, and won. I was fat, I had been out doing all the wrong stuff, drinking, eating badly, I have improved a lot since then. He has improved since then.
“I’ve got a lot of respect for him, he’s a nice guy, I’ve seen him at a lot of tournaments, but this is the fight game, it is me or him.
“I am in the prime of my life, I’m like a well-oiled machine. I feel the best I have in years, the year delay has done me the world of good.”