Tears fell after my Olympic dream ended but the heartache will drive me on

I have been home from the Olympics for a few days and, while the hurt is still raw, I am feeling so much better than I did last Tuesday in Tokyo. Then, after I lost a split-decision in my lightweight quarter-final against Sudaporn Seesondee of Thailand, I felt distraught. I had missed an Olympic medal on a 3-2 split decision.

I am only 20 but I am not naive. Even before I won two fights to reach the quarters I had said the Olympic Games can make or break your dreams. I know it’s an unforgiving arena. But I thought I had done enough to beat Seesondee, a really good fighter who is nine years older than me and a former world championship silver medallist. We knew it was close but my trainers were convinced I had won.

You then endure the agony of waiting for the verdict. When they said “Blue”, which meant Seesondee had won a bronze medal, she sank to her knees. She covered her face with her hands and sobbed in relief. I walked around the ring in a daze. I was thinking: “Fucking hell – what’s happening?” In that terrible moment I was so upset and frustrated. I could hardly believe it.

In the changing room I kept saying: “I don’t know what to do … I don’t know what to do.” I was crying and it just felt like everything had been a waste of time. I’ve been fighting since I was nine years old, when I had to pretend to be a boy called Colin so that I would be allowed into a boxing gym. I’ve wanted to go to the Olympics since London 2012. I was 11 years old then, so I’ve been dreaming of these Games for nine long years. My tears fell because it felt like I had wasted my time. There was no consoling me in those lonely moments.

Less than a week later I am more positive. My performances at the Olympics were really good. Every time I had to fight, I stepped up. But, sometimes, things just don’t go your way.

My first tournament as a senior was an Olympic qualifier in March 2020. I won my first fight and then Covid shut down the world. Over a year later, with no real experience in senior boxing, we resumed qualification and I beat Mira Potkonen, the world No 2, and made it to the final. It was tough to lose to Kellie Harrington, who became the Olympic champion on Sunday.

I am not far from the top of the podium. In Tokyo I beat Donjeta Sadiku, a tough woman from Kosova, and then Rashida Ellis from America. Rashida is a real good fighter and, like me, she comes from a boxing family. Her brothers are professionals and she has grit and determination. She wanted to win so badly but I was better than her.

Seesondee’s a very skilful boxer, as tricky as she is experienced. I thought I won the first round convincingly but when I heard that three of the judges had scored it in her favour I was really nervous. I didn’t know what they wanted. It was playing on my mind even when I won the second round. My coach Dave Alloway said: “It’s even now. Just let your hands go.” I did that and when I came back to the corner after the last round Dave said: “You’ve edged it.” We soon learned that I had just lost it.

My dad was the first person I phoned. He also thought I had won and I then spoke to my big sister Jaydeen, who is 22. She is always honest, sometimes even too honest. Jay said: “You won that.”

I went to bed at three in the morning and I was wide awake at six o’clock. I went for a walk because I was flying back to London later that day. I needed to get home to start healing my heartbreak.

The pain doesn’t feel quite so sharp any more. I’ve even been able to watch the boxing over the last few days and I was so happy see Galal Yafai and Lauren Price win gold. Galal’s cool. He has been on the team a long time and he deserves his gold medal. He was disappointed at the last Olympics but he’s stuck to his dream. He works incredibly hard and he was brilliant in Saturday’s final. It was great to see Lauren win on Sunday. She’s also been on the team a long time. She started out boxing at 69kg and now she’s found her spot at 75kg, and she’s smashed it. Lauren is the Olympic middleweight champion.

That makes me smile – as does the fact I was part of a team which won six medals. The only other British boxing team to do the same fought more than a hundred years ago, at the Olympic Games in 1920.

In my first column for the Guardian, I said I would imagine my 11-year-old self watching me at ringside. It’s hard to know what she would say to me now but I think she would be proud of me. One day I will allow myself to feel proud too. In the meantime I’ve got some good options to consider. Many people are advising me to stay on for the Paris Olympics when, at 23, I will be so much more experienced. Boxing people from the Philippines and Ghana came to find me to tell me I should go for gold in 2024. But I also have the chance to turn professional. I can see the benefits of both so I need to speak to my family and think carefully.

I feel confident I will be successful in whatever I choose. I will use all the heartache of the past week to do something special.

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