The only Guernsey boxer in the Games Village
In the history of the Commonwealth Games, no athlete had ever represented Guernsey in boxing.
Not until Billy Le Poullain stepped into the ring at Oxenford Studios on the opening day of competition.
Guernsey has a population of 63,000 and there is just one boxing club on the island, the Guernsey Amalgamated Boxing Club.
Although Le Poullain didn’t win his fight on Thursday, his achievements inspired a nation – and new generation – of boxers, putting the small nation in the English Channel on the boxing world map.
“Everyone at home is so very proud and it marks a new beginning for the sport,” Guernsey Chef de Mission Garry Collins told GC2018.com.
“Acorns grow into great things. He’s a legend.”
Walking into the ring, Le Poullain had his mum, sisters, girlfriend and girlfriend’s mum in the stands, the Guernsey flag proudly on display and their voices heard across the arena.
It was the second time in 24 hours that he’d experienced the electric atmosphere of a major Games, with Le Poullain taking part in the Opening Ceremony the night before.
When he entered the Parade of Nations, Le Poullain got goosebumps.
“I had goosebumps the whole time,” he told GC2018.com.
“It’s a bit surreal, when they call Guernsey’s name it’s like you’re a little kid and you’re sat in assembly and you win an award.
“Everyone’s looking at you and you’re only five, six years of age – that’s what it felt like.
“I think it was 35,000 people in there and they were all cheering and I could see the odd Guernsey flag everywhere and I was just buzzing.”
Le Poullain started boxing when he was 11, admiring the likes of Manny Pacquiao.
“It was the pinnacle of sport,” Le Poullain said.
“As I was coming through the ranks, it was motivating to see. Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather both came from nothing so a little bit of hard work goes a long way.”
Now, he’s driven to be the best. Make no mistake, Le Poullain wants gold and he won’t stop until he gets there.
After a long-awaited treat, “Pizza. And some chocolate and some ice cream”, and some recovery time, it’s straight back into training.
“I love being the first person to [compete at a Games for Guernsey] and I’m just motivated by being the best,” he said.
“I’m going to let my body heal because it’s been through hell the last six months. Then knuckle down, be more disciplined than I’ve ever been, more focused than I’ve ever been and let’s try to get some gold medals.”
Since qualifying for the Games in November 2017, Le Poullain along with the Guernsey Commonwealth Games Association and his family and friends had been working to prepare him for competition.
Renowned Welsh coach Simon Weaver joined long-term coach Ben Duff in Le Poullain’s corner, his job in carpentry allowed him to work around training and physio appointments and the community, including strangers he’d encounter on the street, offered their support.
“It’s good to come from a small community,” Le Poullain told GC2018.com.
“We’re a small community and we’re tight knit. When I’m back in Guernsey I’ve got people coming up to me in the high street, I’ve never met them before but they’ve seen me in the local paper and they’re wishing me well.”
The island’s sense of community has extended to the 31-strong Guernsey GC2018 team. The athletes are competing across eight sports and have been supporting each other throughout their events.
With cyclists and other athletes in the crowd cheering the 22-year-old on, he’ll be cheering just as loudly throughout the rest of the competition.
“I want to get to their events and support them,” he said.
“It’s good to come from a small community, everyone wants the other athletes to be successful.”
Le Poullain couldn’t overcome Pakistan’s Gul Zaib in a close bout that was decided by a split decision 2:3.
Disappointment is a part of elite sport and Le Poullain’s coaches know this is just the start for the 22-year-old, who was named the 2017 Channel Islands Sports Personality of the Year, and Guernsey boxing.
“I’ve been in boxing 41 years myself, I’ve seen a lot of boxing talent come through but I do rate him as a boxer,” Weaver said.
“Nine minutes in the ring, that’s all you’re in there for. You could train three years for nine minutes and it either goes your way or it doesn’t.
“He’s still a champion for getting here.”
Coach Ben Duff agreed. Le Poullain’s efforts have already made an impact on the sport and he’s capable of achieving his gold medal goals.
“I’ve been training Billy for about five years now, he’s improved rapidly in the last five years,” he said.
“We’ve got quite a lot of boxers now in Guernsey that are really starting to improve and progress and I think over the next four years we could have a lot more boxers coming to the Commonwealth Games.”
Le Poullain is also looking towards the future. After all, he’s made history once, he can do it again.
“Hopefully I’ve inspired some of the little kids to show them,” he said.
“When I first started boxing I lost my first 10 fights, I only won two or three. So to show those kids you don’t have to be the best at the start but if you stay disciplined and keep it consistent you can really achieve your dream.
“My dream wasn’t achieved here but I got to the competition, that’s half the journey done so next time, 2022 Birmingham, I’ll have to one better myself.”
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