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European Olympic qualification event – the ultimate preview

European Olympic Qualfication event
Lauren Price is a must-watch boxer ahead of Tokyo 2020 GB Boxing
John Dennen surveys the upcoming European Olympic qualification event, who's in each weight division and what they must do to qualify

THE finest boxers in Europe with gather at the Copper Box in Stratford to fight for their places at the Olympic Games later this year. The tournament begins on March 14 and will conclude on March 24 once 77 quota places at Tokyo 2020 have been decided.

There is little that’s more dramatic than seeing some of the finest boxers in the world battling through a tournament, each bout over a frenetic three rounds, to secure the one thing they’ve spent their lives training for – the chance to become an Olympian.

The British team does have a chance to star at this event. GB has consistently produced high calibre boxers, outstanding individuals who have risen to prominence through the last three or four Olympic cycles. But what is unique about the GB squad going into this European Olympic Qualification event is the sheer depth of achievement throughout the 13-strong squad.

This team doesn’t just have a smattering of major medals on its track record. 10 of these GB boxers between them have amassed 25 major medals, that’s finishing on the podium of a major championship, either a Europeans or Worlds (not to mention a clutch of Commonwealth medals and other smaller tournaments). That is unprecedented. It shows that this squad not only has talent but has gained vital experience over the last four years.

Welsh middleweight Lauren Price has a larger medal haul than any of her GB teammates. She has come away from five majors with silverware, culminating in World and European gold last year. She goes into this tournament in form, but with a serious rival. She’s met Holland’s Nouchka Fontijn in the World and European finals and they have built a ferocious rivalry. With the right seeding expect them to meet at the later stages of this competition.

To guarantee her place at the Olympic Games Price will have to finish in the top four and so reach the semi-finals. It means her crucial qualification bout would be in the quarter-finals, which for the women’s 75kgs division takes place on March 20.

The other Welsh boxer in the line up, Rosie Eccles has a tough route to make it to an Olympic place. There are five berths at Tokyo 2020 available here in the women’s 69kgs division. A semi-final spot would guarantee one, therefore the quarterfinals in the afternoon session of March 20 are all qualification bouts. Lose in the quarters though and the boxers here will have to fight through two box-offs, in the evening sessions on March 22 and March 24 to win the fifth and final place at the Olympic Games.

Although Caroline Dubois does not have the major medals that most of her peers on this GB team do, that does not mean she won’t rise to prominence on this occasion in her home city. The simple reason for that lack of major medals is because this event will be her first senior tournament. She however has no shortage of accolades as a World Youth and Youth Olympic gold medallist. It will be fascinating to see how she measures up against the elite of the women’s lightweight division. Finland’s Mira Potkonen and Ireland’s Kellie Harrington for instance are both serious contenders. The top six in their division will qualify for the Olympics. The quarter-finals are therefore all important at 60kgs, in this weight class they take place on the afternoon session of March 19 and the box-offs to decide the other two 2020 Olympians will be in the evening session on March 21.

Both England’s Karriss Artingstall and Ireland’s Michaela Walsh will be contenders at 57kgs. Given the vagaries of the draw either could have a hard path to qualification. They will need to win in the quarter-finals on the evening of March 19, failing that the last two Olympic places are on the line in two box-offs on the evening of March 21. Walsh has been on the international circuit for years but is better suited to this weight division and can break through to the elite level. Artingstall burst onto the scene in style last year and if she continues that calibre of performance, she will be a force to be reckoned with in London.

The biggest surprise, almost certainly of the entire tournament, is the inclusion of GB flyweight Charley Davison. The mother of three had seven years out of the sport. She came back to boxing to get in shape. Davison only won the elite national championships last year. The Lowestoft boxer had to move down a division for a GB assessment. But she got on to the squad in January and proved herself, to such an extent that the British coaching team have selected her for this event at 51kgs. Davison has had gym bouts with world class boxers in camp. But now she needs to deliver at the highest level and reach the top six if her Olympic dream is to come true. If she gets through the preliminary stages on March 14 and 16, the crucial quarter-final would be on the afternoon of March 19. Lose that and it’s into the box-offs on the evening session of March 21 for a last chance to qualify.

In a team without the sudden arrival of Davison, Lewis Richardson would have been a surprise selection. After an injury to Sammy Lee, as the reserve Richardson has been called up at middleweight. Another magical chance for a British boxer, but this will be immensely tough division. Russia has a quality middleweight in Gleb Bakshi and the Ukraine’s formidable Oleksandr Khyzhniak will be looking to storm his way to the final. If Richardson can make it to the quarter-finals and win on the evening of March 20 he’ll be an Olympian. The losing men’s middleweight quarter-finalists go into two qualification box-offs that take place on the afternoon of March 22.

In contrast British super-heavyweight Frazer Clarke is a veteran of international boxing. He’s been on the international squad for the last two Olympic cycles but this will be his first qualification event. It’s a big chance that’s he waited a long time for. At 91&kgs only four will go from this event to Tokyo. He needs therefore to win in the quarter-finals on the evening of March 20. There are good super-heavy contenders in Europe too, including Clarke’s now familiar rival Maksim Babanin of Russia.

Frazer Clarke Olympic boxing rankings
Frazer Clarke lands on Babanin at the World championships in Russia GB Boxing

Cheavon Clarke at 91kgs must also reach the final four. The Olympic qualification bouts in his division are the quarter-finals on the evening session on March 19. There will be an incentive however for all boxers in every division to go for gold after they’ve qualified. Seeding at the Olympic Games themselves will be informed by how well boxers do in their qualifier.

To make sure of a 81kgs berth at Tokyo Ben Whittaker will need to place in the top six to make sure of his qualification. The all important quarter-finals for him would be in the afternoon session on March 20, with the box-off at 81kgs, if required, on March 22 in the evening session. Whittaker will rightly be confident going into this tournament but there is tough opposition in the division. Azerbaijan have a Loren Dominguez, of Cuban heritage, boxing for them, a man who has beaten Whittaker before. Ben though was the only European to medal at the World championships last year.

While others might become stars over the coming months, Pat McCormack is already a sensation. McCormack has been dazzling with his results. His only loss of 2019 was a somewhat contentious ruling after a bad cut early in the second round ended his World championship final in favour of Russia’s Andrei Zamkovoy. Pat will have his sights set on the final and the gold medal here in London but to secure his place at his second Olympic Games he would just need to win a quarter-final on March 20, in the afternoon session (or failing that the qualification box-offs to decide the fifth and sixth quota places for men’s welterweights are on the afternoon of March 22).

Pat’s twin brother Luke McCormack will be in action alongside him, determined to ensure the duo go to Tokyo together. For Luke in the new lightweight division (63kgs) he needs to finish in the top eight. He would therefore face his qualification bout on the evening session of March 17. Winning that would put him into the quarter-finals and the next Olympic Games.

Similarly GB 57kgs Peter McGrail needs to reach the quarter-finals to make it to his first Olympic Games. He will therefore need to get through the preliminary stage bouts on the evening of March 16 to reach the final eight. The Liverpudlian has to be favoured to do this. There hasn’t been a major championship since Rio 2016 in which McGrail hasn’t medalled. But renewing hostilities with Ireland’s Kurt Walker is a fascinating prospect.

Similarly Galal Yafai needs a top eight finish. Bouts at 52kgs, a division he was only obliged to move up to last year, start on the evening of March 14 at the Copper Box with the qualifying contests on the evening of March 16.

340 boxers from 46 countries are set to take part in this event. The competition is sure to be fierce. Tickets to the event are on sale at https://see.tickets/boxingroadtotokyo, with prices starting at £5.

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