FOR Leeds boxer Jack Bateson, the summer of 2016 will always be remembered as a case of what might have been.
For many years leading up to the Rio Olympic Games, the Sky Academy Sports Scholar believed it would be him representing both his county and country at flyweight.
“Maybe I could have taken a medal home,” he ponders. “But it is what it is and I suppose we will never know now.”
Yet failure to qualify for Rio 2016 has only acted as “fuel to the fire” for the 22-year-old – who has gained muscle and motivation over the last six months.
Now competing at bantamweight, Bateson insists there is more to boxing than an Olympics – with the Leeds fighter setting his long-term sights on turning pro and following Josh Warrington’s lead.
After winning a glut of medals and championships, Bateson appeared destined for his Olympics debut in South America this year but the Leeds fighter ultimately failed to seal his qualification spot with 20-year-old Keighley fighter Muhammad Ali instead representing his country at flyweight in South America.
Ali hoped to produce the goods to emulate his illustrious namesake but was knocked out in the last 16 by Venezuelan fighter Yoel Finol who went on to bag a bronze. Straight talking Bateson believes he might have done something similar but the Leeds fighter will have to wait another four years if he wishes to shine at an Olympic Games.
Bateson will be 26 by the time Tokyo 2020 comes around, By then, though, the Leeds fighter’s career might have headed in a very different direction with the Yorkshireman already considering turning pro.
Reflecting on missing Rio 2016 this summer, Bateson admitted to the YEP: “At first I was sick. But when the Olympics started and I sat and I watched a little bit, it’s not the be all and end all.
“I spoke to a lot of people, a lot of great fighters, and some of the great fighters didn’t reach the Olympics and went on to achieve success.
“I’ve got my mentor at Sky, Johnny Nelson, who turned pro and went on to win a world title so I think it’s not the be all and end all and I can move forward and I heard it wasn’t actually all that. I think London did a much better job and it’s just fuel to the fire. I used that over the summer in the gym to work hard and I suppose it is a little bit of pressure off.
“For the last four years, all I have been asked is ‘are you going to the Olympics?’, and I was gutted because I had to turn around to everyone and say I am not going when everyone is thinking it’s nailed on. But it took a lot of the pressure off me and I can just enjoy it now and anything else is a bonus I suppose.
“I haven’t fully decided what I am going to do yet but I am trying not to look too far ahead.
“I think a lot of time leading up to the Olympics I was looking too far ahead and I want to just try and keep it a fight at a time and use every goal that I have and just work towards that one goal and whatever comes after comes after.
“For the time being I am going to stay amateur but anything could happen and goals and targets do change so I’m just going to keep working hard and push forward really.”
Evidence of Bateson’s hard graft over the summer was certainly on display in Finland last week when the fighter made his comeback after six months off and took in the Tammer tournament at his new weight.
After twice winning silver medals at the competition in previous years, Bateson went one better and brought home gold.
Bateson explained: “I obviously had a little bit of time off over the summer while the Olympics were on and I put a muscle on as I had been working on my strength over the summer. Getting back in the gym I put a bit of weight on and I decided to move up to bantamweight from flyweight which is a difference of about four kilos but when it comes to boxing it’s quite a lot.
“This was my first tournament and it’s a hard tournament because I have been here twice before – four years ago and two years ago and I got a silver boxing both teams.
“I knew that it would be a big ask to get gold but I was feeling really good, I went there and put in two good performances so I’m well pleased. I feel like a different man in a way now. I feel like I am maturing now in training and I’m seeing out my shots a lot more. And I just feel a lot stronger. I feel like this weight could be the weight that is going to suit me and I am going to be a lot more comfortable so I’m looking forward to how things are going to go now.”
The World Series Of Boxing is now the fighter’s next aim – with Bateson set to compete against champions from other nations in bouts throughout January, February and March.
The 2017 European Championships and World Championships could also be on the agenda – with Bateson’s new weight putting him on a potential collision course with another Leeds fighter in Qais Ashfaq, chosen as Team GB’s sole hope at bantamweight in Rio and defeated in the last 32 by Thailand’s Chatchai Butdee.
“I’m pretty sure Qais is going to go pro,” said Bateson.
“But there’s some good bantamweights on the team and there’s a lad called Peter McGrail who’s from Liverpool so there’ll be me, him and there’s also Qais at the minute and it’s whether Qais decides to stay on. But me and Qais are good friends and from when we lived together in Sheffield I think he’s pretty sure on turning pro one day and one day soon.”
At this rate, his good pal Bateson might not be far behind. Asked if he could turn pro before the Tokyo 2020 Games, Bateson admitted: “Definitely, especially with the way Leeds get behind pro fighters. I am getting the most amazing support I could ever ask for from all the Leeds supporters and they are really getting behind me, like they do with Josh Warrington so it would be good to pay them back one day and maybe even fight at the Leeds Arena on the undercard of a Josh Warrington fight and they are the fights that I have got to look forward to.
“One day it will happen, it’s just a matter of time.”