Harris Akbar hoping to show AIBA World Championship what he’s made of

Not every athlete went to Tokyo this summer to compete. For some it was a chance to watch and learn, a ringside seat to what is required to become an Olympian.

Ringside seat: Harris Akbar hopes to use his watching brief in Tokyo to good effect at the world championships. (Picture: Steve Ellis)

Harris Akbar had that opportunity earlier this year and it had the desired effect, imbuing in the 22-year-old from Bradford a determination to ensure that come the next Olympics in Paris it would be him in the ring.

“Tokyo was unreal, a real eye-opener,” says Akbar, who has been on the Great Britain Boxing programme for four years.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

“Watching the lads constantly, how they were training, how they were recovering; everything.

Bradford boxer Harris Akbar at the EIS in Sheffield (Picture: Steve Ellis)

“More than anything it gave me a hunger: I want what they have. I want to be an Olympian, so my hunger for Paris is more than it’s ever been.”

Akbar, a light-middleweight, went out as sparring partner to welterweight Pat McCormack who would go on to win a silver medal in Tokyo.

“Pat was always switched on,” says Akbar, who was like sponge absorbing as much of the experience as he could.

“Everything he did revolved around boxing, the way he ate, the way he slept, the way he rested. You’ve got to stay on it 100 per cent. I never realised the mental element to it. There’s obviously the physical aspect with the training and fighting, but the eating right and disciplining yourself is the hardest part to this game.”

Bradford boxer Harris Akbar training at the EIS in Sheffield (Picture: Steve Ellis)

Eating used to be the hardest part to control for Akbar as he grew up in Bradford, taking his first steps as a boxer at the Bradford Police and College Boxing Club.

“Back in 2012, I was quite chubby,” he remembers of the early days of an amateur fight career that has taken in 160 contests.

“I was in the wrong weight class and I just kept getting stopped.

“A really good coach came in and said you’re looking ‘a bit comfy’. I ended up losing a lot of weight and since then my mind has been on boxing.

“When I lost that weight and could see my abbs I realised I was actually quite good at this.”

Good enough by 2017 to earn a place on the GB squad that trains four days a week at the English Institute of Sport in Sheffield.

All that training, all those fights and all that knowledge he gained in Tokyo must now be harnessed on the road to Paris 2024.

First stop is the AIBA World Championships which begin in Belgrade today.

Akbar is one of nine new faces wearing the GB vest, each man with Paris the target.

“I’m looking forward to this more than anything,” says Akbar. “It’s my first major as a senior and I can’t wait to go out there and show what I’m about.

“This is the first stepping stone, but I can’t be blinded by the bigger picture. I have to focus on what’s ahead of me because there’s lots of tournaments coming up: Commonwealths, European Championships. There’s a lot to be excited for but right now my head needs to be on these world championships.

“I have a lot of belief in myself. I’m going there to win it, but in the least I hope I can come back with a medal. It doesn’t matter who’s in front of me, I’ve got to concentrate on my performance, and hopefully I can put my name on the map.”

He will be joined in Serbia by Harvey Lambert, a welterweight from Hull, the two Yorkshiremen experiencing a unique training technique in Sheffield to help them last the course.

“We’ve been doing a lot of altitude training for the worlds,” says Akbar.

“We wear altitude masks on the power bike, and me and Harvey have been doing it together.

“Ten seconds on, 10 seconds off for three sets. First one’s not too bad and then the second one hits you and you’ve got to push.

“It’s like wearing a gas mask that hinders the oxygen intake, it makes it really difficult to push on when you’re feeling a lot of lactic acid. It’s horrible. Like your muscles are burning.”

It could all be worth it this week, though, and ultimately, in three years’ time.