A stellar performance at next month’s World championships in Doha could see Josh Kelly book a surprise spot on the plane to next summer’s Olympic Games in Rio de Janiero.
The 21-year-old from Sunderland was handed an opportunity to prove himself at top international level, which he took with both hands by winning a bronze medal at the European Games in Baku, Azerbaijan and securing qualification to the World’s.
Kelly was the surprise name on the team and also moved up in weight to welterweight for the tournament, but he excelled and his Olympic dream is now within touching distance.
The Houghton and District ABC star bounced back from a loss to Sam Maxwell in the 2014 ABA final, but then suffered a leg injury that derailed his progress and forced him out of the WSB campaign for the British Lionhearts.
However, he claims he is back on form, fully fit and poised to cash in on the faith shown in him by the GB coaches. Kelly said: “A couple of years ago I was in the position where I was watching people go to the Europeans and picking up medals, before heading off to the Worlds and the Olympics, and now I’m in that position myself.
“If you had told me that I would be here a couple of years back, I would have told you that you were daft. But I’m so close to achieving that ambition every amateur fighter has of fighting at the Olympic Games. I’ve got to qualify, so I’m targeting a medal at the World’s so it’s all done and I’ve got my place on the plane in the bag and I can’t wait to get to Qatar.
“I was ready to box in the WSB, but I missed out on it, as I got a stress fracture on my leg, which knocked me out of the ABAs and a lot of other tournaments, but once they picked me for the European Games, I grabbed my opportunity with both hands.
“You have to push through the injuries when you come back to make sure you’re fully recovered, as they make you stronger physically and mentally, whereas if you just give up, you’re never going to make it. That’s what I’ve done and I’m now reaping the rewards.”
Kelly was rested for last month’s European championships, along with super-heavyweight Joe Joyce, who won the gold medal in Baku to guarantee a place on the squad for Doha.
The 21-year-old says that was a good thing as he had time to re-charge his batteries, as well as avoiding potential cuts and injuries if he had fought in Bulgaria. He’s also aware of the pressure of a potential “box-off” in the semi-finals, as only three Olympic places are on offer in Doha.
“It was good to secure qualification to the Worlds early and rest up whilst the others were at the European championships, because anything can happen at these tournaments. You could get a cut, be robbed by the judges or pick up an injury, so to do it early and have no worries was a bonus for me. It was my first major as a senior, so to medal and now to go to the World’s is massive for me at this stage.
“You hit such a peak at the European Games, so that when we got back the coaches gave me a bit of time off after I qualified, rather than go again at the European Championships, so I just kept ticking over and working on some bits and pieces, before stepping it up again, so I can peak once more as I get to Qatar.
“The process to qualify has changed in that you have to box for the bronze medal this time, as there are only three spaces on offer [at 69kgs, less at other weights], whereas before you were there if you made the quarter-finals, so that is an added bit of pressure, but I love that.
“If you want to be the best, you have to prove yourself and I intend on doing that. There are no easy draws in the World championships, so if you go in expecting an easy fight, you’re going to get beat, so I’ve got to be at the top of my game.”