MUHAMMAD ALI is British and he’s going to the Olympic Games. Well, the flyweight from Bury that is, so the slightly less famous Muhammad Ali. But one who’s going to be well worth watching in Rio: he’s vicious, sets a high pace, likes to fight but has the requisite boxing skills for the top level. He’ll be joined by eight team-mates at the Rio Olympics all of whom qualified over the course of a wild two days at the European Qualification Event in Samsun, Turkey.
It’s fair to say that the GB team have exceeded expectations. Given how well they did in the European championships and the European Games last year, and given that the boxers who have already qualified for Rio are out of the picture, in theory they should have been on course for success in Samsun. But the theoretical doesn’t always become reality in amateur boxing. Anything can and frequently does happen. The last Olympic qualification event in Turkey saw some crazy decisions from the judges (I should know, I was ringside for that one). There was no such controversy this time around. Katie Taylor, who has seemed pretty much invincible, did lose but it was a close, very well-contested bout.
The real surprise in Turkey was how well boxers entering their first major tournament performed. Galal Yafai and Lawrence Okolie are new internationals. It looked like they’d go to Turkey to gain valuable experience ahead of possibly qualifying at one of the later tournaments. Instead they both not only won their place at the Olympic Games but went all the way through to collect gold medals.
Curiously enough, one of the most talented boxers on the team and one in the best form before the tournament got underway, 64kgs Pat McCormack didn’t qualify. But he along with the men’s 69kgs will have two more opportunities to win a place at Rio in upcoming tournaments. The women’s 60kgs and 75kgs are yet to qualify, their last chance will be the women’s World championships in May where they’ll have to finish in the top four.
The current list of Britain’s 2016 Olympians stands at: Nicola Adams (52kgs), Galal Yafai (49kgs), Muhammad Ali (52kgs), Qais Ashfaq (56kgs), Joe Cordina (60kgs), Antony Fowler (75kgs), Joshua Buatsi (81kgs), Lawrence Okolie (91kgs) and Joe Joyce (91&kgs).
The build-up to Rio 2016 can begin in earnest.