Amateur Feature

A tale of two countries: Cuba and Russia

World Series of Boxing
Chris Kempson looks at the nations that still dominating world amateur boxing, Cuba and Russia

TWO countries, one a tiny Caribbean island nation with a small population; the other massive in area with a huge number of inhabitants have dominated the AIBA World Boxing Championships (formerly known as the World Amateur Boxing Championships). The Republic of Cuba (Cuba) has dominated the men’s championships and likewise the Russian Federation (Russia), the women’s event. Two nations who, in many ways could not be more dissimilar rule the roost in the world amateur championships boxing ring.

Nineteen men’s world championships have come and gone and the story has only ever been about Cuba; it seems it was ever thus. In nine women’s world championships, Russia has reigned supreme. Only a brave, nay, perhaps, only a foolish man would likely suggest that this order is about to change anytime soon.

What we will never know is, had Cuban women been allowed, first to box in their own country, and then internationally, what impact they may have had on past world championships. The Cuban ban on female boxers is still hard to comprehend, even today, and many of us, long for the day, when Cuban females will be allowed to strut their ring stuff on the global stage. This can only be good for our amateur sport. I only hope that it will happen while I can still write in these columns; although I will not hold my breath for this eventuality. That said, it is understood that the Cuban government continues to look at the medical implications for women’s boxing.

Since, 1974 in Havana, where the initial championships were held, Cuba has amassed a phenomenal 135 men’s medals in the “worlds”, many more than the present day Russian Federation and the former old USSR (Soviet Union) whose combined total reads 108 medals (65 and 43 respectively). The United States of America are in third spot with 45 medals. Following on in that gold, silver and bronze medal order are a mixture of the “new kids on the block” and the older established eastern European ring strongholds; Kazakhstan (40); Bulgaria (34); Romania (29); Uzbekistan (36); Ukraine (29)and Azerbaijan(19).

Next come three western European boxing countries again in strict medal colour order; Italy (22), Germany(35) and France (23). China ranks next on 13 medals overall, and then Hungary on 10 and then Turkey with 16.

England, the Republic of Ireland and Poland – one of my all time favourite amateur boxing nations – have but one men’s gold medallist as follows: Frankie Gavin in 2007 at lightweight in Chicago; Michael Conlan in 2015 at bantamweight in Qatar and Henryk Srednicki  in 1978 at flyweight in Belgrade,only the second ever “men’s worlds”. Overall the combined England/ GB medal return is 1 gold, 3 silver and 8 bronze. Disappointing overall returns indeed for such well established amateur boxing countries, with really no dramatic prospects for any likely improvements anytime soon, I would suggest. But there is always hope and this is what we must cling to for now it seems.

Not surprisingly, Cuba has no fewer than nine multiple gold medallists from the world championships; Felix Savon  (6 gold and 1 silver); Juan Hernandez Sierra (4gold and 1 bronze); Julio Cesar La Cruz (4 gold); Lazaro Alvarez (3 gold and 1 silver); Roberto Balado (3 gold); Adolfo Horta (3 gold); Mario Kindelan (3 gold); Odlanier Solis (3 gold) and Teofilo Stevenson (3 gold). Only four other boxers  are able to compete in this impressive and formidable  list of illustrious ring title holders:  Bulgaria’s Serafim Todorov (3 gold and 1 silver); China’s Zou Shiming (3 gold and 1 silver); Romania’s Francisc Vastag ( 3 gold and 1 bronze) and finally Magomedrasul  Majidov from Azerbaijan with three golds.  The Cuban production line of champions is truly awesome and has shaped men’s boxing at world level for over 40 years with no sign of diminishing. They deserve our praise and admiration. Some will still suggest, maybe even insist that Cuba’s success is due to the fact that it is one of the world’s last truly socialist countries following Marxist- Leninist ideology. They may have a point I suppose, but there will be many other factors too, which will need further and much closer examination, ones not merely based on political dogma. Perhaps the basis for another article in due course?

Now it is the turn of the ladies and not wishing to labour the point, how different it might have been, had Cuban women been allowed to duck between the ropes and throw leather at a variety of world level opponents.

Since its inception in 2001 in Scranton, in the United States of America, there has been eight other “women’s worlds.”  Russia has set the standard and gained the most medals, 53 in total. China are next with 40;  then India with 28; followed by North Korea on 21; next come the great western democracies of Canada and the United States of America on 25 and 32 medals respectively. As with the men, these overall medal totals reflect success in strict gold, silver and bronze order. Next up are Turkey on 22, Kazakhstan with 14; then the Republic of Ireland on 7. England/ UK have amassed 11 between them. Italy and France are next on 10 medals each; then come Hungary on 19, Ukraine with 18 and Sweden with 11. As with the male competitors, the countries listed in the women’s section, are not exclusive or indeed exhaustive to medal winning, nor is it intended for them to be so.

Ireland’s, lightweight Katie Taylor, is without a shadow of a doubt, the greatest woman boxer, so far, produced by our western boxing powers – with five world golds and a bronze. She is only just “topped” by India’s very assured and impressive Mary Kom with five golds and a silver.

England/UK have had success too with golds from middleweight, Savannah Marshall in 2012, she also captured bronze in 2016; and flyweight Nicola Adams finally  registering gold in 2016, after three silver efforts in 2008, 2010 and 2012.


Strangely enough, only two Russians feature in the multiple gold medallists table. Irina Sinetskaya with three golds and one silver and one bronze and also Sofya Ochigava with two golds and also a silver and a bronze. Two Canadians, perhaps a little surprisingly are in the same list of the “good and great women exponents of the noble art”- Mary Spencer with three golds and a bronze and Ariane Fortin-Brochu with two golds, one silver and also one bronze. Italian Simona Galassi racked up three golds, as did Ren Cancan for China. Landing two golds were Hungarian Mari Kovacs, who also bagged two silver and one bronze, while Sweden’s Anna Laurell can claim similar medal credentials, notably two gold, one silver and one bronze.

Russia, no longer a communist state, variously described as a federal semi-presidential republic, seems to be conquering the world with its women leading the medal table. Again it is difficult to gauge how much affect their current political ideology has on their sporting prowess, save to say that the Russian Federation is very keen to show the world; not least the west, what it can in certain sporting fields, achieve with full state sponsorship. Sporting success is the one of the emblems of Russian achievement and dominance. It is certainly doing just that, so maybe the shift from a hard line communist state to its present day environment has been beneficial at least in the roped square. This is certainly worthy of continuing debate.

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