Team GB’s showboating boxer Ben Whittaker has gone from being kicked out of school and sacked from two jobs – for hiding in the toilets – to fighting for Olympic gold and emulating his hero Muhammad Ali.
Whittaker, from Wolverhampton, has already guaranteed himself Olympic silver but is three rounds from lightheavyweight gold when he fights in Wednesday’s final.
After beating Russian Imam Khataev by edging a split decision, Whittaker revealed how boxing set him on a path to potential Olympic glory after a tough childhood.
“I grew up with ADHD. In a classroom situation I could never switch on,” Whittaker said. “I was a bit embarrassed to tell people so I played the sort of gangster role.
“I was a bit naughty, messing round as I was a bit insecure with what I had. I got kicked out of school in Year 11 and my dad said I’d have to find a job to get a bit of discipline.
“I went to a sports shop first, Boxing Day, very, very busy. My social skills were terrible and I hid in the toilets and got sacked. My dad works at the Wolverhampton Wanderers (Premier League football club) ground and he got me a job there. I was a steward, 69kg, bald kid, skinny as anything.
“I didn’t like it as I was too cold so I hid in the toilets. I got caught eating pies under the hand dryer and got sacked again.”
The 24-year-old admitted that his early boxing career was blighted by an inability to get fit, despite undoubted qualities with his fists.
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“I was fighting in local shows in a pub or social club,” he added. “I was so unfit. I never used to train. In truth, I hated it – who wants to get punched in the face? But I was very talented, winning fights off that alone.
“I thought ‘if I do get up and run, and spar more than once a month, I can do something’. I wanted to show the school that said I’ll amount to nothing.”
On Wednesday, the fast-talking Midlander will also aim to match the colour of his hair – gold – as well as one his heroes when he takes on Rio 20216 middleweight champion Arlen Lopz, of Cuba.
“Every Christmas my coach used to buy me a Muhammad Ali photo from the  Olympics when he’s standing on the podium and he had the gold medal at 81kg [light heavy],” the Briton said.
“He said ‘this is going to be you. Trust me, I love amateur boxing and your style will win it’. I thought ‘whatever’.
“He bought it again for me last Christmas and said ‘you’re on the doorstep now, you’ve got to go and do it’. I looked at the photo and thought ‘I can do this’.”
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