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Back in the Day: Pete Hanlon, Olympic boxer

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Author: Roger Jackson, Posted: Tuesday, 18th December 2018, 09:00

Pete Hanlon competed in the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow Pete Hanlon competed in the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow

The clue is the signage on the roof of his car – ‘Olympic Pete Hanlon’.

These days 59-year-old Hanlon is a driving instructor but back in the day he was one of the best amateur boxers in the country and good enough to represent Great Britain in the Moscow Olympics in 1980.

Hence the word ‘Olympic’ in his business name of course.

He was also good enough to win a string of amateur titles and fought all over the globe in the late 70s and early 80s.

Born in Dublin, Hanlon moved to Gloucester with his family when he was 18 months old.

He went to St Peter’s Junior School and it was while there that he first got into boxing.

“After school I used to play in the street with my friend Kevin Martin,” he explained. “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.”

The next afternoon Hanlon joined his mate at Gloucester Boxing Club which in those days were based at India House in Barton Street.

Hanlon was just eight years old, so how did he get on?

“I fell in love with it from the first day,” he said.

Hanlon was a featherweight and in those days there were no headguards for amateur boxers like there are today.

That didn’t bother the young Hanlon, however, and even though his pal Kevin Martin didn’t stay in the sport, it became a huge part of Hanlon’s life when he was growing up.

And he was obviously pretty good, so when did he realise that he had a real talent?

“When the coach came to my house and asked my dad why I was no longer going to the gym,” he said.

“Terry Beckett was the coach and I remember my dad asking me when I came home how my boxing was going and I said ‘good’.

“He then gave me a good hiding for lying!”

Hanlon had left school without any qualifications – “I went to school to socialise, not to learn,” he added – and had started work when he was 15.

Even at that tender age his boxing career was clearly at a crossroads. Fortunately for the young Hanlon, his dad Albert was able to offer very sound advice.

“I told my dad that I was 15 and that my mates were all going out drinking and going to clubs,” continued Hanlon.

“That was when my dad told me that Terry Beckett thought I could go all the way, he told me that Terry thought I had a gift.”

And Beckett was absolutely right of course.

“I had a whisky with my dad and he said that if I was going to give it a go I should give it a go for three years and have no regrets,” said Hanlon.

And Hanlon certainly didn’t have any regrets because within those three years he had been crowned both ABA champion and British champion.

In those days the amateur championships were a very big thing. They were televised by the BBC and Hanlon, a postman, was often referred to as ‘the letter boxer’ by top boxing commentator Harry Carpenter.

“I won my first medal in 1978,” he said. “It was at the European junior championships. They were in Dublin and my dad was there and that was special because the Irish were trying to claim me as one of their own!”

That was just the start for Hanlon because he won gold medals in the Acropolis Cup in Greece and the Tanner tournament in Finland in 1979, won a silver at the European Championships as well as a silver at the Commonwealth Games in Australia in 1982.

In all he had some 250 fights, winning some 225 to 230 of them. He was stopped just the once and knocked down only a couple of times so it’s very obvious that Pete Hanlon was a seriously good amateur boxer.

The highlight would have to be the 1980 Olympics where he reached the quarter-finals, only losing on points to world no 1 Viktor Rybakov from the Soviet Union who, of course, was fighting on home soil.

“Our coach Kevin Hickey reckoned it was my best performance,” said Hanlon. “In the previous round I’d beaten Antonio Esparragoza from Venezuela. He went on to turn pro and became a world champion.”

Hanlon admitted that he’d thought about turning pro but was talked out of it by his dad and trainer.

“There was no money in it and I’d have had to leave home and I didn’t want to do that,” he said. “Gloucester city had looked after me.”

And Hanlon certainly did his home city proud because Esparragoza wasn’t the only boxer he fought who went on to become a world champion in the pro ranks.

And it was one of the country’s all-time boxing greats, Barry McGuigan, who he took on in the Multi Nations tournament at Wembley in 1980, although Hanlon admits he can’t remember too much about the fight.

“I lost on points,” he said, “but Barry hit me so hard in the first round that I didn’t realise I’d lost the fight until the next day. I was sharing a room with Tony Willis and I got up the morning after the fight and told him I was fighting McGuigan that day!

“McGuigan caught me in the first 30/35 seconds of the fight and I was told afterwards that he was told that if he didn’t catch me in the first round then I’d have been too strong for him.”

So what made Hanlon such a good boxer?

“My strength and stamina,” he said. “I never took a step back, I just kept going forward all the time. My strength was wearing them down. I would take three or four shots to land one.”

Hanlon could hit hard but that strength also turned out to be a weakness at the 1982 Commonwealth Games – when he captained the England boxing team – and ultimately cost him a gold medal.

“Everyone knew I had a weak right hand but my left hook was my best punch,” he said. “In the my first fight in the first round I broke my right hand and in the second round I broke my left. I won on points but then had to fight in the next rounds with two broken hands.

“In the final I couldn’t close my hands and I was stopped by Peter Konyegwachie.”

Hanlon retired after that but like so many boxers he came out of retirement although in his case it was for one fight only.

“It was about a year later,” he said. “It was in Amsterdam and I fought for Western Counties. After that I retired permanently.”

Hanlon went on to work as a drayman and a taxi driver before starting his own business as a driving instructor some nine years ago.

And while people in the know are aware of his boxing prowess, they may not be aware that he was one of those people who can pretty much turn their hand to any sport.

Football, rugby, badminton, squash; you name it he was good at it.

These days his big passion is golf.

A member at Gloucester Golf Club, he said: “I love golf. I play off five and have won the county seniors championship and the club seniors championship. I’ve been playing since 78/79 and try to practise twice a week and play twice a week.”

Ask him which sport he prefers, golf or boxing, and he deliberates before saying: “I’ve got to say golf now, it doesn’t hurt so much and you can play it for much longer.”

And while that is obviously true, it is equally obvious that he is incredibly proud of what he achieved in the boxing ring and particularly being an Olympian.

“Yes, definitely,” said the father of two grown up boys. “It’s a great thing to be able to say you’ve been to the Olympics, it’s a magical thing. It’s a very exclusive club, most athletes don’t get anywhere near the Olympics.”

And while Hanlon’s success in making it to Moscow was largely down to his skill, hard work and determination, he is quick to pay tribute to those who helped him along the way.

“I was still a postman at the time and I had to go in and see my boss and tell him I needed some time off so that I could take part in the Olympics,” he said. “My boss said, ‘Don’t worry, ‘I’ve had 40 people come into my office offering me a week of their time so you can go’.”

That was pretty special, of course, and Hanlon also pays tribute to his wife Lynne, whom he married in 1981.

They live in Tuffley and Hanlon said: “I met her when I was 14 and she backed me 100 per cent. She used to push me out to go training, I wouldn’t have achieved anything without her. They say behind every successful man is a very good woman.”

So how does he look back on his boxing career?

“No regrets,” he said. “I wouldn’t change it for the world.”

Other Images

England’s boxing team at the 1982 Commonwealth Games. Pete Hanlon is in the front row, second from the left and is pictured with his silver medal
Pete Hanlon is a driving instructor these days

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