LONDON (Reuters) - British lightweight Caroline Dubois, who made her start in boxing pretending to be a boy called Colin, won the first fight of her senior career in a Tokyo 2020 Olympic qualifier on Saturday.
The 19-year-old Londoner, an unbeaten junior world and Olympic champion, outpointed Ala Staradub of Belarus in the opening bout at the Copper Box near London’s 2012 Olympic stadium.
The event, involving 342 male and female boxers from 43 countries with 77 Olympic spots available, remains on despite most other sport in Europe being cancelled due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Boxers from countries like Italy, the worst affected by the outbreak in Europe, have been in Britain for several weeks.
Dubois, whose 10 siblings include unbeaten professional heavyweight Daniel Dubois, has a tougher next fight against 2016 Olympic bronze medallist and top seed Mira Potkonen.
The Finn, who sparred with Dubois at a training camp in Colorado in January and is a 39-year-old mother of two, had a bye to the second round.
“It was an alright fight, I’ll give it a C, I could have done a lot better but obviously there was a lot of pressure that was built up,” said Dubois of her debut.
“Even though Mira is number one seed, she has only got two hands, two legs and one brain. If I can’t beat her, I can’t ever say I will be the best.”
Dubois started boxing at nine, but had to hide her gender.
“I followed my brother into the sport and back then most boxing clubs in England didn’t really approve of female boxing,” she told Reuters earlier in the week.
“My brother was at Repton amateur boxing club and I joined there. Repton at the time didn’t allow female boxers so I had to say I was Colin.”
The subterfuge lasted for months until she had to get a medical for her first real bout.
“It was funny because whenever my dad used to call me, he wasn’t very good at it and would always say ‘Caroline’ and nobody else picked up on it,” added the 2019 BBC young sports personality of the year.
“Some people did actually say ‘that boy, he looks like a girl’ but everyone else just turned a blind eye.”
The highlight of the evening programme will be the super-heavyweight clash between Italian Clemente Russo and Britain’s Frazer Clarke.
Russo, still battling on at 37, is a double world champion and 2008 and 2012 Olympic silver medallist, beating future American heavyweight world champion Deontay Wilder at the Beijing Games.
Clarke, 28, is a former sparring partner of professional heavyweight world champion Anthony Joshua.
The Briton is making his third attempt to qualify for a Games after losing out to eventual gold medallist Joshua in 2012 and Joe Joyce in 2016.
Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Tony Lawrence