THE Alexis Vastine memorial tournament, a competition dedicated to the memory of the French Olympian who tragically died, finished in Nantes on October 30. The event saw a GB team compete for the first time since lockdown and return home with a cluster of medals.
Middleweight Ramtin Musah lost two narrow bouts. In his first a split went to the USA’s Joseph Hicks. The American suffered an injury and so Musah came back into the competition only to miss out on another close call against India’s Ashish Kuma. Scotland’s Scott Forest was also held to a bronze medal, losing a split decision France’s Soheb Bouafia.
The women’s flyweight tournament was contested as a round robin. Tori-Ellis Willetts lost her opening bout on unanimous decision to Wassila Lkhardi but won a silver medal after unanimously outpointing host nation boxer Caroline Curveilier.
Lightweight Paige Murney and light-heavyweight George Crotty both secured gold medals. Murney went straight into the final and took a good win over Poland’s Aneta Rygielska.
For Crotty it marks the continuation of what has in fact turned out to be a good year in his boxing career. “I was actually quite lucky,” he explains. “I was one of the last people to box for GB. I done the Bocskai in February. I had four fights over there. I’ve had enough fights this year. I’d had four fights out there. I got gold out there so I was going into it with a good bit of form. Obviously with a bit of a delay, a longer break than I would have liked. I had the momentum still.”
He was still a shade hesitant in his first bout in France against Sweden’s Eridon Nuha. “You hit the pads and you think I feel sharp and I feel good,” he said. “Then you get in there and you’ve got a moving opponent against you, who’s trying to do something back, it did feel a bit strange for the first round or two. But then I go into it and I shook the ringrust off.”
In the final he went up against the USA’s Robby Gonzales. “Who was good, who was the American number one but I knew that I could beat him,” Crotty said.
He had watched Gonzales in the other semi-final as he defeated India’s Sangwan Sumit. “He done the first round, real negative on the backfoot, just dancing around, then come out in the second and third and went majorly the aggressor. So we kind of expected that and that’s how it went really [in their final]. The first round he was quite negative, just dancing around. It was probably only three or four clear shots that won me the first round,” Crotty said.
“I looked a bit more positive, in the middle of the ring, trying to make the fight happen. Then in the second round he came out how we thought he was going to, just trying to bomb forward kind of thing. It probably played a bit better for me because he was then open to two or three shots down the middle, move, move and then he would get a bit more aggressive with it, leaving more gaps.
“In the third round against the American it was close. He gave me a count with a minute and a half to go. It was a bit of a soft count. I threw a hook but missed the hook and came over and he caught me and the ref gave a count. Then the minute after that was probably my best minute of the fight where I stayed calm and caught him with the better shots. That probably won me the fight.”
Crotty took the decision, on a split, and won the tournament. “I’m lucky, I’ve done well really to get a comp in and a couple of fights and nick a gold medal before the end of the year,” he said.
It hasn’t been easy to perform, with so much uncertainty about which international tournaments would be able to go ahead during the pandemic. “I’d always rather train hard for it and it not happen, than not train hard for it and it happen. Then you’re going over there thinking I wish I’d done more,” Crotty said. “You’re always better off doing that extra bit and putting a hard camp in and if it don’t happen it don’t happen, you’ve done a camp but you haven’t lost anything.”
The competition in Nantes was held inside the same hotel where the teams of boxers were staying so the whole event was essentially in a bubble. There were restrictions but it came off successfully. An encouraging sign as at least international boxing begins to come back and as new times for the Olympic qualification events have been set. The European qualifier will take place in April-May of next year, the World qualifier in June.
Ben Whittaker was selected for GB for the Olympic qualifier earlier this year, and is expected to remain in pole position. But Crotty, a Marine, is taking a long view. He’s also hardly tempted to turn professional in the current environment. “Definitely wouldn’t be the time to go at the minute,” Crotty said. “These training camps where we’re going away. That’s where you’re learning your trade… They’re all world level fighters, you’re learning different styles, it’s a good place to learn your trade and get paid for it. You’re not paying out.”
“The Marines do loads for me. I’m grateful for the backing and the support I get from the Marines,” he continued. “I’d like to stay on and do a major Games.
“For GB, that’s a goal for me, to go the majors and medal at them.”