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Ringside Report Looks Back at Boxer Peter Hanlon

By Donald “Braveheart” Stewart

Born in Dublin, Peter Hanlon took the decision to fight for another country – England. It allowed him the opportunity to represent them at the 1982 Commonwealth Games in Brisbane, where, as a featherweight he won silver. But before then, at the 1980 Olympics in Moscow, Hanlon boxed for Team GB and achieved the last 16. It highlighted how the amateur code was a successful place for Hanlon as he was also the Amateur Boxing Association (ABA) featherweight champion in 1979 and 1981. And so, from 1979 through to 1982, he had four years in which event after event made Peter Hanlon the very pinnacle of amateur boxing.

The beginning of his journey from a Dubliner to a British title holder began when he was just 18 months old, when he moved to Gloucester in England. Peter went to a local Junior school and then by chance the boxing club. As he told Roger Jackson in The Local Answer, “After school I used to play in the street with my friend Kevin Martin. One afternoon, I called round his house and he wasn’t there. I asked his mum where he was, and she said he was at the boxing club.”

And so, Peter went to join his friend and so began his long love affair with boxing – aged just 8.

It was just as well because school as not for Peter. He left with no qualifications but perhaps all he needed to qualify in was the use of his fists. At 15 years of age, he was looking round, working, and seeing his friends all drinking and socialising and so the temptation was there for him to give up the discipline of his boxing and become a normal young lad. But his father then told him that the trainer at the club thought he could go all the way and so Peter, put away such childish thoughts and dedicated himself to his craft.

Hi amateur career had seen him box for England several times including in 1979, beating Alex Gathumbi for England, then losing to Modest Napunyi when they went to Kenya, and he fought in Madison Square Garden … Nairobi! He also fought for England against Hungary in the same year – beating Ferenc Gojak. In the Olympic year he beat Ian McLeod of Scotland in the Scotland/ England tie, beat John Wanjau when the Kenyans came to the UK and had two fights with Sandor Kalanyos – winning one and losing the other in another Hungary/England event.

But to be picked for the Olympics meant he had to catch the eye in the domestic competitions. And that meant in the Amateur Boxing association (ABA) national competitions. Televised by the BBC and a massive deal, the ABAs were where Peter became champion in 1979 when he beat Ian McLeod in that final and then again in 1981, when he beat Jimmy Duncan in the final.

However, Peter had actually won his first medal in 1978 at the European Championships, where legendary BBC commentator, Harry Carpenter gave Peter the nickname of “the letter boxer” because Peter was , at that time a postman. The venue? Dublin. As his father was in attendance, there was much fuss made of the heritage that Peter had, being back home in the city of his birth! But again, Peter’s international calling brought, for him some pretty spectacular opportunities.

In Greece he won gold in the Acropolis Cup and a silver in the European Championships which were held in Finland. In 1980 he also went in against a future world champion in the shape of Barry McGuigan who beat him on points. In a back handed compliment, apparently McGuigan had been warned that if he did not whack Peter early on, Peter would have been too strong for him. And McGuigan did just that, leaving Peter stunned and heading for that loss.

But the pinnacle for him was always going to be, the Olympics. In 1980, the US had boycotted this Olympiad, held in Moscow, due to the invasion, by the Soviet Union of Afghanistan. Many nations found they had less competition for medals that year.

Joining the competition in round two, Peter faced a future world champion – Antonio Esparragoza of Venezuela. He beat him on points. Then, in what people felt was his best ever performance, he faced the world number 1 in Viktor Rybakov. It was a points loss, at the quarter final and for the postman, his attendance at the Games did not deliver a medal.

His international appearances for England continued after the Olympics and in 1981, Peter lost to Robert Franco when the USA came visiting and then, when English amateur boxing hosted the country of Peter’s birth, Ireland, he beat Gerry Delaney in 1982.

Perhaps his greatest feat was winning silver in the 1982 Brisbane Commonwealth Games in Australia.

Peter boxed Geoffrey Nyeko in round one, winning on points, then beat Steve Nolan in the quarter final on points before enjoying a second round stoppage of Rodney Harberger in the semi-final. His final, against Peter Konyegwachi was unsuccessful and was due ironically, to what made Peter a great boxer – his ability to hit hard and often. Against Nyeko in the first round, he broke his weaker right hand in the first round. In the second, he broke his left hand. It meant that Peter, also the captain of the English boxing team in Brisbane had to grin and bear each fight with two broken hands. By the time he got to the final his hands were a mess, and he could not close them properly meaning he was left with a disadvantage that he simply could not overcome and had to settle for the silver medal.

He did think about turning professional but there was no real money in it and it would have meant leaving his home for long spells – something he was unwilling to do.

Following his retiral from the sport, Hanlon went on to become a self-employed driving instructor – the name of his firm – Olympic Peter Hanlon!

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