THROUGHOUT the recent Olympics, most of the focus in the boxing events was on the participants themselves. However, spare a thought for one Zaur Antia.
The Georgian native arrived in Dublin over a decade ago, with the bare minimum of the English vocabulary gathered. Fast forward and he is now involved, and indeed one of reasons for, the success of our boxers in recent years.
“I had difficulty with the language, with a new country, it was all hard,” he admitted to the Irish Examiner. “Family is most important to me but mine weren’t here. Every one month and a half I’d say, ‘Now I go, now I go’.”
Once described by boxer Kenny Egan as being like “a caveman going around the place grunting” in the early days of Antia’s presence in Ireland, now the circumstances are completely different.
It is remarkable to think that despite the success of our boxers, in particular during the London Olympics earlier this month, that so little is known about Antia despite being prominent in the boxing world for a number of years.
Antia is know one of the most highly-regarded and highly sought-after technical coaches throughout the world, but despite being recognised for his boxers successes, he is never one to become involved in the medal celebrations.
“I always wrestle boys older than me but in my town wrestling was not so popular and my neighbours were in boxing and that’s why I go there,” he said. “And I found my place. My coach teach me everything. Boxing. Life.”
“He was like a father. He said about me, ‘This is the boy who has no fear; he has no fear at all’.”
Following the collapse and then subsequent break-up of the Soviet Union in the early 1990’s, the six-time Georgian boxing champion then took the courageous decision to move to Ireland and leave his family behind (they did join him in time).
Describing the Irish boxers as “having big heart and big character but weren’t skilful” when he became involved in their set-up, he said that they were unaware of the most basic boxing skills.
“They couldn’t walk while punching. They couldn’t do basic head movements. So my demonstration was new for them”
While he waited for his family to join him, Antia played chess with friends, and played classical music on the piano. However, just before the Beijing Olympics, disaster struck for Antia as his hometown was invaded and attacked by the Russians, with the coach unable to contact his family.
“My wife and son were there. My town was bombed. First they hit these communication places so there was no phone, no internet. But what could I do, you have to be strong and control yourself.”
Despite Antia’s family being safe, one of his boxers was one of 16 killed during the attack, a boxer with whom he was very close to his family.
However, being able to relax and not have to worry about such thoughts before and indeed during the recent Olympics in London made his experience this year all the more enjoyable.
“Coaching work, you have to love your business and love your boxers. There is no barrier for the fanatic and I am boxing fanatic. I am optimist. If my optimism dies, so do I,” he finished.