Boxer Bianca Elmir shares her journey on the road to Rio Olympics

Boxer Bianca Elmir shares her journey on the road to Rio Olympics

Canberra boxer is aiming high after enduring constant scrutiny from the Australian Sports Anti-doping Authority.

Standing illuminated under a spotlight in front of a sellout crowd, Bianca Elmir comes to life. But this time, she's not in a boxing ring. She's a performer at Melbourne Fringe Festival, in a production exploring the juxtaposition of "feminine fragility and freakish strength".

"The music became really dark for a moment, and then really slow. I have to extend my arm really slowly so you can see the shadows on my muscles, using my exact technique from boxing," Elmir says.

Bianca Elmir: "Getting punched in the face makes me feel alive."

Bianca Elmir: "Getting punched in the face makes me feel alive."Credit:Graham Tidy

No Punchline was directed and produced by a friend of Elmir's. The boxer said being given the opportunity to perform was mind-blowing. Whereas amateur boxing is all about conformity, Elmir's stage performance was a chance to step outside her comfort zone.

"It was really nice to tap into that side of myself and realise I actually have a passion for that, a passion for that kind of expression through performance," Elmir said.

Canberra boxer Bianca Elmir has persevered with her sport despite the setback of a 12-month ban for testing positive to a banned substance.

Canberra boxer Bianca Elmir has persevered with her sport despite the setback of a 12-month ban for testing positive to a banned substance.Credit:Graham Tidy

"It's nice to be reminded that there are other things outside boxing as well, there is actually a world out there, outside of the gym," she said.

Back in Canberra, Elmir walks into the Dickson gym with her chest puffed out and the words "prove them wrong" emblazoned on her top.

The words resonate with the 33-year-old, who was delivered a life-changing 12-month ban from her sport for testing positive to a banned substance in 2012.

The ban resulted in Elmir missing out on potentially qualifying for the 2012 Olympics, and the quirky, fun-loving athlete said there had been some tough lessons from that result.

She admitted the positive drug test was due to her irresponsibility.

"A few years down the track, it seems like it's a really simple thing to avoid. For me it was more that I was just really ad hoc, really irresponsible in not checking every ingredient," Elmir said.

"I could've just checked. Rather than taking it for face value, which was: 'I'm training, I'm travelling, I'm on a plane and to alleviate the pressure I get being on a plane that long I'm going to take this thing from my coach's mum.' I just didn't even look twice.

"I got into Australia two days before I fought, I was worried about water retention and she took them all the time, so I just took it. I was just irresponsible, I thought it would be fine but it wasn't."

Water retention played a massive part in Elmir's weight division, having to weigh in at 51 kilograms. Following the 12-month ban, ongoing and intrusive testing by the Australian Sports Anti-doping Authority took its toll on the athlete. Multiple times on the night before an event, Elmir was visited by the authority.

"Asada bullied me for over a year. The test meant I had to drink a whole heap of water, which meant I was outside my weight division, so at three in the morning I was putting my body through extreme stress, like [wearing] garbage bag, sweatsuit, Glad Wrap, beanie, on the bike for two hours at 3am.

"I'd be sweating my ass off and then having to compete the next day. It was unsustainable."

The mental, physical and emotional exhaustion resulted in Elmir's decision to compete in the next weight division up.

However, while men have 11 Olympic weight divisions to choose from in boxing, women have just three. Elmir, whose ideal fighting weight is 54 kilograms, will compete in the 60 kilogram division. She's now facing a tough couple of months to prepare, without the full support of her coach and many around her.

"It's more that we've been forced to take this hand rather than I just made that decision. Although in the end its probably for my health anyway," she said.

Elmir's next big event is the Australian Championships in November with a goal of winning a place at the Rio Olympics in 2016.

However, since the drug scandal her outlook on her sport has changed.

"Beforehand, winning was so attached to my sense of self-worth that winning was the only solution to my life, there was no other purpose to it," Elmir said.

"I was looking for so many answers about my own existence, trying to piece my life together a bit more. I was trying to navigate my own sense of identity and through the sport I was able to fill in a vacuum I didn't have."

While boxing is still her main focus, Elmir has expanded her horizons. Winning, she said, is still important but she admits, "adversity has been great for me".

"When I realised I had put all my eggs in one basket, called boxing, I worked out, 'you're setting yourself up for failure'. Through all this, I've worked out your foundation needs to be vast, it needs to be broad," she said.

"There are moments when boxing is an unhealthy addiction, but I'm a lot more grounded now as an older athlete."

While the thrill of the win still draws Elmir to compete, she said there are things she wants to achieve in the sport. The decision to quit will come when she no longer wants to win, and when she no longer enjoys the action.

"Getting punched in the face makes me feel alive. It sounds mental, it sounds like I'm a psychopath, but I'm not – I've checked," she joked.

"When I no longer like being punched in the face, that's when I know it's time to hang up the gloves."

Kimberley Le Lievre is the Editor of The Sunday Canberra Times

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