GB Boxer Nicola Adams winning Gold at the Rio Olympics

Nicola Adams: 'I Can Marry Boxing With Getting Dressed Up And Feeling Feminine: The Two Are Not Mutually Exclusive'

Exclusive to ELLE: Olympic gold medal-winning British boxer Nicola Adams on what femininity means to her

It was my mum who shaped my definition of femininity. She brought my brother and me up as a single parent and instilled in me the belief that you can do it all. You can be feminine and strong and be able to do everything on your own without anyone else's help. She taught me that femininity is strong, kind, caring, driven, ambitious and confident.

She's the reason I started boxing when I was 12. She couldn't find any childcare one evening and she wanted to do an aerobics class – she was always very active and sporty, so for me that was the norm growing up. There was an after-school boxing class on at the same time, so she enrolled me in that. From the first class I was so giddy and excited, I couldn't wait to start doing pads and get some gloves on.

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I was never into traditionally girly things growing up. I just liked tracksuits, shorts and T-shirts. I played football with the boys, but also hung out with girls so my friendship group has always been pretty fifty-fifty. Walking around in high heels isn't an option when all you want to do is kick a ball around. My mum would call me a tomboy, but it never phased me.

Now I do like getting dressed up for big events, although I still don't do heels: I like Jimmy Choo, 3.1 Phillip Lim and Alexander McQueen, because it's nice to get out of tracksuits. People think of boxers and boxing as very masculine, but I don't see it that way. I can marry boxing with getting dressed up and feeling feminine: the two are not mutually exclusive. Obviously when I'm in the ring I'm not thinking about how I look – I'm just focused on winning.

When I'm in the ring I'm not thinking about how I look - I'm just focused on winning.

There are only six women compared with 30 men on the GB boxing team. At the moment there aren't enough girls who are good enough to be on the team, so that's why it's quite small, but there won't always be such a divide. After the 2012 Olympics, there was a lot more interest in women's boxing. Before that, I don't think people really knew how good female boxers were. The London Games showed how skilful women boxers are.

It makes me very proud to think that I might be inspiring other women and young girls to get into boxing. I was at an event recently and a dad came up to me with his daughter. She told me that she'd been doing ballet for five years, but when she saw me win gold in 2012 she packed it in, and now she's boxing.

On my first day training at my gym in Harringey, the coach said to me, 'In this gym, there's no female of male. You're just a boxer.' His attitude has created a good atmosphere in which there's no discrimination – we're all just seen as boxers. There was never any 'Oh she's a girl, she's going to be doing that'.

On my first day training, the coach said to me 'In this gym, there's no female or male. You're just a boxer'

But I have experienced sexism in the sport. One of the first times I went to an England training camp, at the age of 18, I didn't train alongside the guys. It was one of the first times they'd ever invited a woman, and I would be doing five rounds on the bags instead of eight because they didn't think I'd be able to cope with the full amount. That annoyed me, but more than anything it made me even more determined.

We're weighed every day at 7.15am. We all have to be within 5% of our weight division, so for me boxing at 51 kilos, I'm not allowed to be any heavier than 53.6kg. But I've never had body-image issues: I love my muscles and I love looking fit, plus I feel good when I sweat. The only time I don't like to sweat is when I'm on the dance floor, but when I'm boxing I just don't care. All I'm thinking about is training to get fitter, to get better and to win.

Mohammed Ali has always been a role model for me. It hasn't really bothered me that I never had any female role models in boxing. I guess because I had The Greatest I didn't mind. I used to watch reruns of Ali boxing, and he was always saying 'I'm the greatest'. I always wanted to be able to say, 'Yeah, I'm the greatest, too'. And now I can.

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