GB’s Ben Whittaker and Pat McCormack are through to finals of the Olympic Games.
Whittaker defeated strong Russian light-heavyweight Imam Khataev on Sunday (August 1) at Kokugikan Arena in Tokyo.
Khataev came forward, looking to fire in his hard right. But Whittaker sidled off to the sides, peppering the Russian with quick jabs. The Briton upped his output in the second round, throwing his own cross more frequently. Khataev’s harder punches cracked into the body but Whittaker only let him land single shots, rolling under those blows and maintaining his perpetual motion. The Russian’s aggression kept it close throughout but Whittaker took a split decision victory.
“When I came back from the first round and they said 3-2 [judges’ scoring] the other way I thought, ‘Oh my God, here we go’. But I stayed composed, I pulled it out in the second and I won the third. There were times in there when I thought, ‘You know what, Ben, take a risk, push it.’ But I’ve seen him all week knocking kids out and I didn’t want to become a video on Instagram getting knocked out. I just thought to keep the discipline, get the win, it will come. There were two more rounds to change it and I did,” Ben said. “I stayed disciplined and I don’t think I could have showboated with a kid like that as I would have been punched into the crowd.”
He will box in the 81kgs final on Wednesday. “My coach, every Christmas he used to buy me a Muhammad Ali photo from the Olympics when he’s standing on the podium and he had the gold medal at 81kg. He said ‘this is going to be you’. Just before I came into the arena he sent me the photo and said ‘it’s time, baby’. I replied back, ‘it is time’. I’ve got the chance to do it now. Every kid’s dream as an amateur is getting to that Olympic final and now I’ve got to change that colour to gold,” Whittaker added.
Welterweight Pat McCormack had been due to box earlier in the day. But his scheduled opponent, Ireland’s Aidan Walsh withdrew having sustained an injury after his last contest. McCormack gets a walkover and will go straight into the 69kgs final on Tuesday.
Both Whittaker and McCormack are guaranteed at least silver medals now, but they’ll want more.
Ireland’s Walsh has secured a 69kgs bronze medal. “What Aidan did this week is an incredible achievement,” said Ireland’s team leader for boxing, Bernard Dunne in a statement. “His performance throughout the tournament has been outstanding.
“It is great to see him write his name in the annals of Irish sport. Just over two years ago we selected Aidan for his first major championship, and over the past few months that potential that we had identified has grown and developed into a world-class performance, that reflects greatly on the level of preparation he has put in ahead of these Games.”
British super-heavyweight Frazer Clarke is guaranteed at least a bronze medal as he advances to semi-finals. Boxing difficult French southpaw Mourad Aliev, Clarke had picked up a cut. The contest was in the balance and then, after clearly being warned for use of the head, the referee saw Aliev use the head again and disqualified him. The Frenchman lost his composure and finished bellowing at the referee and everyone around him as the contest came to an abrupt but extraordinary end.
Aliev sat on the ring apron after the end of the bout, declining to leave as the French protested. “I sat down to protest against the unfairness for me… I prepared for these Games for four years… I really wanted to fight against the injustice, so that was my way to show that I don’t agree with that decision,” Aliev explained afterwards. “I fought my whole life. I prepared my whole life for this event, so getting mad for something like that is natural.”
“The referee made his decision, that’s what he’s there to do. There’s a bunch of great referees and officials here so you know we have to believe in what they do. I think they’ve done whatever they deemed to be correct,” Clarke said. “I felt there was a couple of heads going in there if I’m honest. Whether it’s intentional or not I don’t know. Orthodox boxing a southpaw, it often happens. I’m not going to stand here and say that he did it on purpose ’cause I’m sure that he wouldn’t have wanted to have finished his Olympics the way that it has. But like I said, the referee’s done his job, I was just in there to do mine.”
“I told him to calm down. I’ve been in these situations myself, often you’re not thinking with your head, you’re thinking with your heart and your emotions are all over the place,” he contiued. “The last thing I want him to do – he’s a good fighter, I’m not sure what he wants to do in the future – I didn’t want him to damage his reputation or to be rude to the judges and officials, because they’re only doing their job. I was trying to give him a bit of advice from an experienced and senior head.
“I know it’s hard, and I know he’s angry at the time, I’ve been there before. But the best thing to do is calm down and just go back to the changing rooms and vent your anger to someone else.
“It’s not the way I wanted to win my bronze medal, guarantee my bronze medal. It’s not the way I wanted it but it’s happened.”
Irish featherweight Kurt Walker lost in the quarterfinals to America’s Duke Ragan. “I haven’t watched [the bout] back, but I just felt like I’d done the better work in the second and third but it was so close. He took the first,” Walker said. “He’s very good, but I believe on my day I’m better.”
Ragan is into the medals. “It feels good, but I came for gold and I won’t be satisfied until I get that. I thought my chance at going to the Olympics was over last year [when they were postponed] which is why I turned pro,” he said. “Now I’ll always be an Olympic medallist. It feels good. Bronze is cool, but I don’t really like that colour.”