Peter McGrail: Britain’s newest Olympian comes out swinging

Ahead of the Tokyo Olympics this summer, Gentleman’s Journal goes a few rounds with one of the nation’s gold medal hopefuls

The world shut down the day Peter McGrail qualified for the Olympics. Not through any fault of the boxer’s own, of course. It was March 2020, and mounting coronavirus concerns forced officials to cut short London’s Olympic boxing trials. One fight remained — and it was McGrail’s ticket to Tokyo. 

But he was prepared. Born and raised in Liverpool, McGrail first found his way into the northern city’s fabled Everton Red Triangle Boxing Club at just 10-years-old. After only a few weeks training, his coaches were convinced he could be a national champion.

“And I won my first national title when I was thirteen,” says McGrail modestly. (With a down-to-earth attitude and no discernible ego, Britain couldn’t hope for a more humble athlete in the nation’s corner). “And, if you win a national title, you get to represent the country in the GB Three Nations tournament — which is England, Scotland and Wales. I won that as well. I won that seven times, actually.”

McGrail speaks calmly; he’s direct and unguarded. He doesn’t pull punches in the ring — so feels no need to do so outside of it. And this no-nonsense approach appears to be key to the southpaw’s success.  

In 2014, he won bronze medals at both the Youth Olympic Games and World Youth Championships. In 2017, he became the European Bantamweight champion. And, by 2018, he was part of Team GB — and on a plane bound for the Gold Coast to take part in his first Commonwealth Games. 

“The athlete’s village there was a belter!” laughs McGrail. “But I knew before I won gold at the Commonwealth Games that I wanted to go to the Olympics. I actually went out to Rio to help the team spar and prepare — and the atmosphere there was just so different to any amateur boxing show I’d been to. That’s when I knew; I had to go to the Olympics.”

And so Tokyo became McGrail’s mission. Until Stratford — and the decision of International Olympic Committee’s Boxing Taskforce to curtail the qualifying event. Thankfully, as a Commonwealth gold medallist and European champion, the young boxer needed only one win to secure his place on Team GB’s Tokyo squad. With his single chance, McGrail fought Czech Kevin Godla and won by unanimous decision. He was the final British athlete to qualify for the Games. 

“It was an amazing feeling; knowing that all those years of hard work I’d put in had paid off.”

And then the Olympics — the goal McGrail had been working towards for half a decade — was indefinitely postponed. 

“I was gutted,” admits the Featherweight contender. “I should have turned professional by now, and would’ve had a few fights. So it’s been a hard one. There are people saying I should turn pro anyway — but I’ve already qualified for the Olympics. I’m already going. And I’ve already waited five years.

“And I know how good it would feel to go to the Olympics,” he adds, “how brilliant an experience it would be — and how much better my career could pan out if I got a medal.”

A gold medal from the Olympics would be the prize of McGrail’s collection — but it would be far from his first. 

“If you’re ever in Liverpool and come to ours,” he laughs, “you’ll see that the house is just full. Completely full. Because it isn’t just me. My older brother boxes — and my younger brother, too. There are hundreds of trophies and medals and certificates in there. If we’ve never boxed, the house would be bare….”

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