CHAMPION boxer Cameron Hammond – Moree’s greatest sporting ambassador since swimming sensation Angela Walker and cycling champions Gary and Shane Sutton – bunkers down at the Olympic Village in London this week fighting fit and ready to do his hometown proud.
Walker (nee Mullins), a 4x100m Commonwealth Games gold medallist at Auckland in 1990, represented Australia at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics while the Sutton brothers partnered Colin Fitzgerald and Kevin Nichols to win gold in the team pursuit at the 1978 Commonwealth Games.
And now Hammond, ranked fifth in the world in the 69kg division, joins Moree’s pantheon of greats after qualifying for the 2012 London Olympics.
The 22-year-old spent the first week of his Olympic odyssey at a training camp in Ireland.
“The camp was good and our preparation in Canberra for the last two months was great, too,” Hammond said.
“Things are going good at the moment and I’m feeling pretty good.
“The flight over took a very long time – more than 20 hours – and it’s been hard adjusting to the time difference,” he said.
Hammond’s first bout – a three, three-minute rounder in the 69kg welter division – is scheduled Sunday afternoon London local time.
“That will be in the early hours of Monday morning in Australia,” Hammond said.
“I am feeling well (within myself) and I’m just going to go in there with confidence and do my best,” he said.
Walker was just 16 when she represented Australia at Barcelona.
She said Hammond would create memories that will last forever.
“I wish him all the very best and I know he’ll have the time of his life,” Walker said.
“The best advice I can give him is to relax and enjoy it and take it all in – create the memory of a lifetime.
“To represent Australia at that level is absolutely amazing and to win a medal would be awesome.
“He’s done Moree – and Australia – proud,” she said.
And with 10 uncles and aunties, 34 nephews and nieces and proud grandparents Ron and Yvonne in his corner – as well as thousands of friends and supporters across Australia – Hammond is prepared for the fight of his life.
Hammond’s mother Vicki said it was “still hard to believe” that her son has emerged from the backblocks of north-western NSW to represent his country at sport’s highest level.
“I think it’s still sinking in – it’s just so hard to believe that he’s heading to London to the Olympics,” Vicki said.
“He said he wanted to compete at the Commonwealth Games and the Olympics, and he’s done extremely well to achieve his goals.
“I’m just so proud of him, and so nervous – but excited.”
Like any mum, Vicki was more than a little anxious when Cameron lobbed home one afternoon nine years ago and said he wanted to take up boxing.
“I was a bit worried – he was only 13,” she said.
“I didn’t know anything about boxing at the time but that’s the sport Cameron chose to do, so I gave him my full support – and I still do.”
Vicki’s brother Wally has been a Tamworth resident for the past 24 years and was part of a huge contingent of family and friends to farewell his nephew at Sydney Airport.
He said it was hard at times to comprehend just how much Cameron had achieved in such a short time.
“Really, it’s beyond belief. Sometimes it’s hard to put in to words how his family feels,” Wally said.
“He’s a young man who, with his mother, grew up at the mission in Moree. For any person from Moree – not just an Aboriginal person – to make it this far is incredible, and it means a great deal to his family.
“We’ve had (Aboriginal) blokes go to the National Rugby League and the Commonwealth Games but for a young Aboriginal boy from Moree to get to that level . . . it’s as far as you can go in any sport, and it means a great deal to us.
“We’re very proud and we hope that everyone gets behind Cameron and supports him.
“We want as many people as possible to get together on the nights he boxes and sit up and watch him.”