I just want to keep on improving insists Kurt Walker ahead of tilt at EU Championships
IRELAND’S bantamweight king Kurt Walker heads to this week’s European Union Championships in confident mood but insists he is happy to play the long game, with both eyes fixed firmly on reaching the 2020 Olympic Games.
The Canal counter-puncher was mixing it with some of the best guys at his weight during a recent training camp in Jordanstown, trading leather with some of the men he could come up against in Valladolid, Spain.
Among those who sparred Walker up at Jordanstown were Italy’s Raffaele Di Serio, who the 23-year-old beat to land a European bronze medal last year, and France’s Jordan Rodriquez – the man who shaded their only previous contest during a round-robin tournament in Dublin 18 months ago.
Walker, one of the more experienced heads on a developmental Ireland team that also include’s Clonard flyweight Conor Quinn, should be among the favourites to land gold in Spain, and that is his aim.
However, with the road to Tokyo getting under way next year, that is where his priorities lie.
“Obviously I want to win gold out here, but my main goal is just the Olympics,” he said.
“I don’t care as long as I get better with every fight because everything from now to the Olympics is just about performance, and I can see everything’s getting better.
“I should be a good shout to win gold here but I’m just going to take everything in my stride and see what happens.
“The training camp up in Jordanstown was very good, the perfect preparation really. All the people I sparred were top boys in the weight, and that’s what you need. We need to do more of them from now on, I think we are going to be doing more of them, because you really know where you’re at after those spars.
“Sometimes they get heated, but you might as well go for it. There’s no point in lying down. The Italian boy, I did very well against him there. I’ve improved a lot since the last time we fought so I felt it was a lot easier. Against that French guy, I think I had his number this time.
“All these boys from Europe, I’ve been fighting them all for years, I know who’s who. That’s the good thing about it. By the time it comes to the Olympics, we’re all going to be familiar with each other.”
Lessons have been learnt from past experience too, and Walker is delighted no staleness was allowed to settle in by sparring the same opponents day in, day out.
Travelling up to the Ulster High Performance base every day, training under the watchful eye of head coach John Conlan who will lead the Irish team in Valladolid, he feels ready for whatever comes his way.
“I’ve made that mistake before. Ahead of that last tournament, I was sparring the same fella and it just wasn’t good.
“Like, you could be sparring someone worse than you but if you keep sparring them, it’s going to be a close spar because you both know what you’re going to do.
“That brings you down, and then when you go to a tournament and fight someone different, with a different style maybe, it feels all weird. In a camp like the one we’ve just had, you’re sparring all different sorts of people.
“I like having John in my corner too. He’s very calm, he’s very smart. Me and him understand each other so we work well together.”
European Union Championships (November 8-19)
52kg: C Quinn (Clonard); 56kg: Kurt Walker (Canal); 64kg: Wayne Kelly (Portlaoise); 69kg: Kieran Molloy (Oughterard); 75kg: Michael Nevin (Portlaoise); 91kg: K Afanasev (Smithfield); 91kg+: D Gardiner (Clonmel).
Coaches: J Conlan, E Pluck; Team manager: M Hawkins; Physiotherapist: S Caffrey; Team doctor: J Clover; Sports physiologist: D Martin; R&J: Jim Murrins