Olympic Games Countdown – Ukraine’s fighting pride

Vasyl Lomachenko
Action Images
Who was Ukraine's first Olympic gold medallist? Chris Kempson continues his Olympic Games Countdown

UKRAINE, with a population of around 44 million people, first entered the Olympic boxing ring as an independent nation at the 1996 Summer Games. Before, it had been part of teams participating under the old Russian Empire (1900- 1912), then the old Soviet Union from 1952- 1988 and once as part of the Unified Team in Barcelona in 1992.

The Ukraine’s first ever Olympic boxing medal came the way of light-flyweight, Oleh Kyryukhin, he gained a bronze losing out to the eventual gold medallist from, Bulgaria, Daniel Petrov. Right up at the other end of the weight categories we come to their first gold medallist, none other than “Dr Steelhammer”, Wladimir Klitschko who boxed four times at the Atlanta Games including his final points success over Tonga’s Paea Wolfgramm. As has been documented elsewhere in these columns, they met again a few years later as professionals with Klitschko dismissing his man in a mere ninety seconds. The rest of this Klitschko story is history as they say, dominating the world heavyweight scene for almost fifteen years, until first, the late Corrie Sanders came along, then Lamon Brewster and last year by a certain Tyson Fury.

Wladimir is certainly the Ukraine’s most famous Olympic gold medallist; even though Vasly Lomachenko may have two golds rather than one; and arguably Wladimir remains its most popular ring master. His older brother, Vitali never boxed in the Games, but also found fame and not inconsiderable fortune in also ruling the world heavyweight scene, in his case for eight years, having won it from Herbie Hide in 1999. Losses to first Chris Byrd and then Lennox Lewis were the only blemishes on his paid career record. The Klitschko brothers were huge ambassadors for the Ukraine for the amateur code and the professional game alike.

Moving onto 2000, the Ukraine bagged no fewer than five medals, two silver and three bronze, they were certainly on the medal march.

Silvers came the way of lightweight, Andriy Kotelnyk and welterweight, Serhiy Dotsenko. Kotelnyk lost to the legendary Cuban, Mario Kindelan 4-14, the Cuban retained his title four years later at the expense of Team GB’s, Amir Khan. Dotsenko lost to the legendary Russian, Oleg Saitov 16-24, Saitov too joining the elite band of two-time Olympic gold medallists.

Bronze medal winners were as follows; flyweight, Volodmyr Sydorenko who lost to Thailand’s eventual gold medallist, Wijan Ponlid; bantamweight, Serhiy Danylchenko lost 10-15 to the eventual silver medallist from Russia, Raimkul Malakhbekov; while light-heavyweight. Andriy Fedchuk, lost out 7-11 to the Czech Republic’s eventual silver medallist, Rudolf Kraj.

2004 was a barren year in the Olympic ring for the Ukraine, but they bounced back with two medals in Beijing, one gold and one bronze.

Featherweight, Vasyl Lomachenko took gold, when the Frenchman, Khadafi Djelkhir was halted in the opening round of their final; while the bronze went to Vyacheslav Glazkov in the super-heavyweight division, losing to China’s eventual silver medallist, Zhang Zhilei ,via a walk over as Glazkov was unable to box having sustained an earlier elbow injury.

London 2012 was a great story for the Ukraine, two golds, a silver and two bronze medals were netted, making it the country’s finest medal return at the Olympic Games boxing tournament.

Boxing now at lightweight, Lomachenko won his second gold medal, beating the Republic of Korea’s Han Soon- Chul 19-9 in their final; Lomachenko thus became the Ukraine’s most prolific Olympic gold medallist, even edging out the irrepressible Wladimir Klitschko, no less!

Heavyweight, Oleksandr Usyk won a gold medal defeating Italy’s Clemente Russo in their final.

Silver went to light-welterweight, Denys Berinchyk who lost out to the fine Cuban Roniel Iglesias who won the gold medal.

The two bronze medals came via courtesy of Taras Shelestyuk at welterweight and light-heavyweight, Oleksandr Gvozdyk. Team GB’s eventual silver medallist, Fred Evans squeezed home 11- 10 against Shelestyuk; while Gvozdyk was considered to be somewhat unlucky losing on a countback to Kazakhstan’s eventual silver medallist, Adilbek Niyazymbetov.

So, there it is, in just a few years the Ukraine has landed in a big way on the Olympic ring medal table. So far Ukraine has not qualified any boxers in Rio 2016, which is disappointing, if not indeed a little sad, given the huge strides they have made since 1996. I am sure that if they are not present in Rio, they will come again soon and be back among the medals.

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