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Ben Whittaker and Frazer Clarke finish in Tokyo with Olympic medals

Ben Whittaker
Lopez defeats Whittaker. Photo: BUDA MENDES/POOL/AFP via Getty Images
Ben Whittaker takes an Olympic silver medal, while super-heavyweight Frazer Clarke has bronze. On a day of high emotion both boxers speak from Tokyo

BEN WHITTAKER and Frazer Clarke reached their end of their Olympic journey on Wednesday (August 4) at the Kokugikan Arena in Tokyo.

As Pat McCormack experienced the day before, Whittaker met another superb Cuban in his light-heavyweight final. Arlen Lopez was already an Olympic gold medallist at middleweight and had looked assured in his move up to 81kgs. But Whittaker, who has dazzled at times in the course of his campaign in Tokyo, did not look out of place against the great Cuban. The GB boxer jabbed swiftly, maintaining the gap between them as he moved off on the backfoot.

But gradually, inch by inch, Lopez crept into the contest. He evaded Whittaker’s jab and began to time solid one-two combinations as he switched between orthodox and southpaw stances. Increasing that aggression, asserting clever pressure won him the first two rounds. Whittaker boxed with him throughout, working in shots of real quality, his cross hitting the body, then the head and he whipped a fine left hook in as well. But he could not overhaul Lopez’s lead in the last round and lost a 4-1 split decision. Lopez is a deserved two-weight Olympic champion. But Whittaker, the silver medallist, has still displayed the extent of his talents throughout this tournament.

He was visibly disappointed afterwards. “You don’t win silver, you lose gold. So that’s why I was so emotional. Nobody trains for silver, bronze, everybody up here, they trained for the gold medal and that’s what they wanted. Congratulations to Arlen, it was his time, he’s a great boxer. I’m just going to have to go back to the gym, change a few things, work hard and hopefully next time it’s my time,” Whittaker said.

Frazer Clarke’s heroics at this Olympics ended in the semi-final against imposing Uzbek super-heavyweight Bakhodir Jalolov. A towering southpaw, Jalolov was up on the balls of his feet, moving in and out as his right jab flickered forward and back, opening up room for him to arrow his heavy cross through. He clipped Clarke in the first round, but the Briton still smacked his cross through as he looked to pin the Uzbek down.

With Jalolov taking the first round, Clarke needed to pick up his attacks in the second. But at the same time he had to protect the cuts he’d been given courtesy of Mourad Aliev’s head previously in the quarter-final. Clarke struck his right in hard, showing his power as he tagged Jalolov. The Uzbek felt the weight of that shot and the referee gave him a standing count. But he regrouped quickly, resumed his boxing and retook control of the session.

Clarke would have needed to find something even more special in the third round. But it was Jalolov’s punches the reopened the cut by his right eye. It was a wide, horrible wound. Clarke had to be stopped. Frazer was a worthy Olympic bronze medallist but Jalolov had command of this contest and took his place in the super-heavyweight final.

“I gave a good account of myself, great fight. I knew what I was going into. But I was confident in myself. I couldn’t quite get my shots off, it felt like I spent the whole time worrying what was coming at me as he was heavy-handed,” Clarke said. “Sometimes when you’re in there and getting punched like that by a giant, then plans go out the window.

“I did have two cuts above my eyes [from previous fights] which is like a bullseye for him. Cuts will heal, but I’d never be able to sleep at night if I got to an Olympic semi-final [and] I wasn’t able to compete. 

“I got to live my dream and compete in an Olympic semi-final, which for a small, fat kid from Burton doesn’t happen very often. I can walk away from this Olympics with my head held high.”

America’s Richard Torrez advanced to the super-heavyweight final with a superb victory over Kazakhstan’s Kamshybek Kunkabayev. The latter, a southpaw like Torrez, started well enough. He steered clear or Torrez’s lead right and threw his quick cross. But Torrez responded superbly. A booming left over the top had Kunkabayev holding. He finished the first round strongly and continued his assault in the second. He banged in his right hook. Kunkabayev drove him back for a moment with a heavy cross. But Torrez would not be deterred. He lined up another hard shot and Kunkabayev had a point deducted for holding. He was unravelling. But another huge left dropped the Kazakh heavily. He tried to fight on but a punch opened up a large cut on his nose, stopping the contest halfway through the third round.

“I never underestimate my opponent so being able to have it land like that was definitely a blessing,” Torrez said. “This wasn’t the first time I had this fight. I had this fight at least five times last night. I had this fight three times this morning and I was walking into the ring replaying this fight again, too… It’s something I’ve envisioned and it was able to come to fruition. I’m very proud of that.

“I told you guys after the first fight and I’m a firm believer in it again: this is destiny.”

“I hope my opponent’s alright, I hope he’s doing good. I saw him walk out of the ring, so much love to him,” he added. “He who sheds his blood with me today is my brother. I 100% agree with that statement. I live by that statement.

Torrez had guaranteed himself an Olympic medal with a quarterfinal win over Cuba’s Dainier Pero on August 1. Torrez had needed to rally and give his all to outwork Pero and take a split decision victory.

On Wednesday his US teammate Oshae Jones finishes with an Olympic bronze medal as she lost a split decision in the welterweight semi-final to China’s Gu Hong.

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