Skye Nicolson: “It’s really hard to let go of that dream when you have been so close to it.”

Skye Nicolson: “It’s really hard to let go of that dream when you have been so close to it.

There is something seriously impressive about Skye Nicolson. The calm controlled and thoughtful demeanour on the other end of our Zoom call radiates confidence and assuredness. Skye seems in total control of her life and career, and you just get that feeling, even at the first meeting, that whatever she decides or wants to do, she will get it done.

The Australian has long had a dream about competing in an Olympic arena. This year her dream was finally realised. But sadly it was an experience with restrictions in many ways, a less than perfect preparation was hardly ideal. But the resilience that has served her so well in her life drove her on one more time, and despite losing in the Quarter-Finals on a wafer-thin 3-2 split-decision to Great Britain’s Kariss Artingstall, Skye told FightPost that she has no regrets about her first Olympic experience:

“Definitely no regrets. I was really happy with how I performed in the Olympics. It wasn’t the result I went for but I feel as though I left no stone unturned. I think back and look back on the experience as a positive one. I guess now looking forward is how I can be better, how I can improve to get the result I want next time.”

There were tears in the immediate aftermath, a visibly upset fighter trying to process what had just happened, a lifetimes work and dreams denied by a single solitary point. Make no mistake it was a tough watch. A life’s work decided by a stroke of a pen, trust me, the fight could have gone either way. But not for the first time, the initial disappointment has given way to an even greater hunger to get that gold medal in Paris in three years time:

“Knowing how close I was to being on that Olympic podium just makes me hungrier, it just makes me want it even more. It just shows me to keep doing what I am doing because it is working. Even though it didn’t happen this time it just makes everything so much more in reach now. From not even making the Rio Olympics I have now made these Olympics and also making the Quarter-Finals. It’s all part of the journey and I am getting one step closer to that goal.”

After this interview, Skye announced that she was to turn professional but only alongside her preparations for Paris. The new journey in the paid ranks hasn’t led to an existing dream being filtered down. The primary aim is still being on that podium in Paris, Tokyo was just another obstacle to overcome:

“It’s really hard to let go of that dream when you have been so close to it. I guess it is just another hurdle on the way to that ever-elusive Olympic gold medal.”

The pandemic has affected many things, everything stopped for much of last year including sport. Australia has had the toughest of restrictions in attempts to minimise infections at home. Getting out was practically impossible getting back in was problematic and subject to strict quarantine measures on re-entry back into the country. Skye adjusted as much as possible, but long inactivity is something very few fighters can really overcome, especially on the biggest stage of all:

“That was unfortunately a negative part of my Olympic preparations. I hadn’t boxed for 18 months before I boxed in Tokyo. The other girls I was fighting would have had fights before they went to the Olympics. I felt we were already playing catch up unfortunately but we are so far away from the rest of the world. We couldn’t leave the country until we were vaccinated, I didn’t get vaccinated until May which was the absolute earliest we could get it and we left Australia as soon as we could. While my lead up in the last 8 weeks to Tokyo was amazing, we had international training and sparring. We did altitude training in Colorado with Team USA. Then we went into camp in Japan early to acclimatise and there were 6 or 7 other top nations there as well. I was really grateful for the level of exposure and experience right before the Olympics. But I don’t think 8 weeks can make up for 18 months of inactivity and not having that level to work with made it extremely difficult, unfortunately. I think if we could have got out earlier and had a few fights the results could have been different in the Olympics.

“I have been boxing since I was 12, and the longest I have been out of the ring is probably two months. So to go 18 months without a fight is very hard to readjust to feel comfortable in there because it has been so long. Of course, the Olympics is no regular tournament, so you go from nothing to the biggest event in your life. I’m not making excuses, I boxed well, I’m happy with my performance all things considered and against world-class opponents. I did everything I could and it just wasn’t meant to be this time, that’s boxing.”

Skye has a resilience tattoo, which in many ways, embodies her struggles. To even reach the Olympics has been hard. A failed bid to reach the 2016 Rio Olympics hit her hard. A fighter who fights for the love of her sport, this was the first time that love affair was tested. Losing close decisions is nothing new to Skye, it’s just part of the story, but the loss that denied her that moment in Rio was perhaps the hardest one of all:

“It was my last loss in Australia actually it was the Asian qualifiers I thought I had done enough to win but again it wasn’t meant to be. Another split-decision that could have gone either way. It’s just the sport we are in, a sport that is subjective, open to human error and interpretation. Sometimes you get the close ones and sometimes you don’t. But when there is a lot riding on it, it really hurts. But I do think that loss has made me the athlete I am today it has made me resilient. I try to use that feeling when I don’t win or something doesn’t go right to fuel me to be even better next time and I think that has shown in my results over the years as well. I think resilience is the best thing boxing has given me, resilience is such a powerful tool to have.

“It was actually the first time in my life that I didn’t want to box anymore because I just felt kind of cheated by the sport a bit. I’m sure lots of boxers have felt that way too. But sometimes as much as love you boxing it doesn’t always love you back.”

The recent rise in the popularity of women’s boxing is a far cry from what it was when Skye first started out in 2008, it seems so recent, but prehistoric at the same time. The sport then was still very much a male-dominated sport, and resistance to change perceptions was fierce. But thankfully, and belatedly, times are changing. Skye wants to be that role model that she didn’t have, and hopefully, pave the way for the next generation of talent:

“When I started boxing in 2008 women’s boxing was still very small, I think there were maybe 5 females boxing in Australia at the time. So I feel if I can create a path and show girls that there is a path and a journey that they can go on and be anything that they want to be. I’d love to be that trailblazer and role model that I didn’t have when I was a young female boxer. I went through my teen years not really seeing boxing as something I could do, it was just a hobby. I was 17 when boxing was first introduced to the Olympics. When that avenue started to open up I thought wow that could be me, so I would love to be that role model for the next generation.

“The scene in Australia is definitely growing. The professional scene worldwide in women’s boxing is on the rise right right now. I think Eddie Hearn is doing a brilliant job promoting the women and having them headline cards and having them on the undercards of big world title cards and things like that is so good for female boxing. Women’s boxing has only been in three Olympic cycles so imagine how big it will be after a few more.”

Perceptions have certainly changed, not only that women’s boxing is now accepted and very much on an upward trajectory, but also the fact that you don’t have to look and act in a certain way. Skye’s fellow Australian Ebanie Bridges has played an important role in recent times. Bridges has shown there are different ways to get seen and heard. Her methods haven’t been for everyone, but the critics badly miss the point of what she has done. Her life has drastically changed for the better this year, Bridges started the year fighting in a car park, her last fight was in a stadium. Skye appreciates what Bridges has been doing:

“Ebanie has been a great trailblazer for women’s boxing in Australia, getting the fanbase growing over here. She is doing big things and props to her she is making it work. I love it and good on her, she is getting more eyes on the sport and that is the only way the sport will continue to grow. I think that people who hate for no reason is just poor jealousy. There is that poppy syndrome phrase, which basically means nobody wants the other poppies to be taller than them. They don’t mind seeing you do good but they don’t want you to see you doing better than them. People start to get a little hurt when they see other people getting recognition and opportunities. Ebanie is working really hard at what she is doing and making things happen for herself.”

Skye carries the same kind of mentality as Bridges, breaking stereotypes and not accepting or conforming with rules to make other people feel more comfortable. To take women’s boxing to the next level and keep the progress growing, breaking certain perceived rules is vital. Women’s boxing is definitely on the rise, but we shouldn’t be fooled and ignore the bigger story. In many ways, it is just playing catch up. It shouldn’t have to.

Sport has long been a part of Skye’s life, trying different sports until boxing came her way:

“I have always been sporty. I wasn’t really a tomboy or a girlie girl I feel as though I have been a mix of both. I love getting my hair done and getting my nails done and dressing up. But at the same time, I love being in the gym and being sweaty. It’s been that way forever. I’ve always been into sports be it soccer, gymnastics, figure skating I have tried them up all. I would add that I am extremely competitive, but if I wasn’t the best I wouldn’t keep much interest in it.”

There is a boxing background in Skye’s family. Skye never met her brothers Jamie or Gavin, both were tragically killed in a car crash in 1994. Jamie was a decorated amateur boxer, winning a bronze medal at the 1990 Commonwealth Games and competed at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.

While Skye draws inspiration from her brother’s achievements, Skye fell into boxing purely by chance:

“I started boxing by accident I was only going really for fitness more than anything. I was starting High School and I was getting a little chubby and I wanted to get fit and there were some cute boys my age who were in the boxing gym and I think that was the main motivation at the time. I am very competitive and I started out at the same time as a couple of boys my age and I kept saying I am as good as them. I was sparring with the boys every day and we kind of progressed together. So when they started fighting I wanted to fight too. Being told that I had a bit of natural ability really drove me as well and winning most of my fights when I started really motivated me to keep doing it. I liked winning and the feeling of winning.”

Skye might have fallen into the sport by accident, but she is some fighter. With over 150 amateur fights to her name, a gold medal at the Commonwealth Games in 2018 and a bronze medal at the 2016 world amateur championships, but you get the feeling she is just getting started.

The future looks bright for Skye, even when the boxing career reaches the end, a career in broadcasting almost certainly looms. The first tentative steps have already been taken in that field. She looks a natural.

But at 26, Skye has time and plenty of it. The decision to turn professional looks a shrewd one. The debut will be early next year, but there is that unfinished business with the Olympics. Another cycle has begun, with lessons learned and a full unrestricted preparation, the Australian looks a very good bet indeed to finally be standing on that podium in 2024.

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