Boxing: Team GB’s success since Olympic qualifying introduced

Great Britain's James Degale with his gold medal after beating Cuba's Emilio Correa Bayeaux in the m

Great Britain's James Degale with his gold medal after beating Cuba's Emilio Correa Bayeaux in the men's middleweight (75kg) boxing final at the 2008 Beijing Olympics - Credit: PA

The 1992 Barcelona Olympics saw 336 boxers from 78 counties battling it out for glory – figures that were a concern to the IOC.

As such, a series of qualifying tournaments were held prior to the 1996 Games in Atlanta, which it was also hoepd would drive up the standards of many boxers.

They would gain their Olympic places on a competitive basis, rather than simply by national selection alone, which had led on some occasions to disagreements with the amateur boxing authorities of the other countries of the UK.

Various qualifying tournaments were adopted across the globe and they have been in place ever since.

On occasions qualification for GB boxers is via specific European-based tournaments or sometimes via the European Senior Championships themselves or the AIBA’s World Senior Championships (for men and women).

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Host countries are afforded more generous numbers of boxers allowed to compete than normally would be the case as was seen by GB’s exploits at London 2012.

In essence, by driving up the initial competitive standards, spectators will have the benefit of seeing more top-class boxers performing on the highest Olympic stage than perhaps they might have done otherwise.

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At the 1996 Games in Atlanta, GB had two boxers present in the form of Liverpool featherweight David Burke, who had qualified in his own right as a bronze medallist at the 1996 European championships. However, he lost in his opening contest to Germany’s Falk Huste who triumphed 13-9.

Heavyweight Fola Okesola arrived at the Games because the Danes withdrew their man, Michael Ibsen “allegedly believing that he wouldn’t win”.

Ibsen had already outpointed Okesola at an Olympic Box-Off competition but the British boxer took the Olympic slot only to be stopped by Nate Jones (USA), after an initial bye, in the third round of their bout.

In Sydney in 2000, we had two boxers in action in super-heavyweight Audley Harrison, who won GB’s first ever Olympic gold medal in that weight category and light-heavyweight Courtney Fry.

Like Harrison, Fry had strutted his initial stuff at Repton and subsequently after the Games at Liverpool’s Salisbury ABC, but was outscored by Ghana’s Charles Adamu 16-3.

In Athens in 2004, GB had only one boxer qualify, namely lightweight Amir Khan who went on to gain a fabulous silver medal.

The 2008 Beijing Games saw GB have eight qualifiers as follows: flyweight Khalid Yafai lost first time (9-3) out to Cuba’s eventual silver medalist Andry Laffita; bantamweight Joe Murray lost to the host nation’s Gu Yu 17-7; 2007 world lightweight champion Frankie Gavin was ruled out “for not making the weight”; light-welterweight Bradley Saunders won his opening bout only then to lose to France’s eventual bronze medalist Alexis Vastine 11-7; welterweight Billy Joe Saunders also won his first contest, before losing to Cuba’s eventual silver medalist Carlos Banteux 13-6.

Middleweight James DeGale (Dale Youth) won the gold medal, light-heavyweight Tony Jeffries weighed in with a bronze after losing in the semi-final to Ireland’s eventual silver medalist Kenneth Egan 10-3 and super-heavyweight Liverpudlian David Price became a bronze medalist after losing in the second round of his semi-final with Italy’s Robert Cammarelle who went on to win gold.

All in all 2008 proved to be the first time that GB had won more than one ring medal in a summer Games since 1972 and it was our best result in the Olympic ring since the 1956 Games in Melbourne.

London 2012 turned out to be a great Games for Team GB in the Olympic ring, with five places for men and one for women guaranteed as the host nation.

GB already had five men qualified through the 2011 World Championships in Welshman Andrew Selby (flyweight), Luke Campbell (bantamweight), boxing team captain Tom Stalker (light-welterweight), Welshman Fred Evans (welterweight) and super-heavyweight Anthony Joshua.

This made “void” the five places already granted to GB, with Scotsman Josh Taylor (lightweight) and middleweight Anthony Ogogo coming through a European qualifying tournament to make seven male qualifiers in all.

It was also the first time ever that women had been admitted to the boxing competition at the Olympics and Team GB had three qualifiers via the 2012 World Championships, making the one guaranteed place void. They were Nicola Adams (flyweight), Natasha Jonas (lightweight) and middleweight Savannah Marshall.

Selby initially received a bye, won one contest, then lost 16-11 to Cuba’s eventual gold medalist Robeisy Ramirez, but Campbell went on to win gold, our first in the ring at 2012.

Taylor won his opener only to lose to Italy’s Domenico Valentino 15-10 and team captain Stalker after a bye to start with, had success before losing to Mongolia’s eventual bronze medalist Monkh-Erdene Uranchimegiin 23-22 in a very hotly disputed verdict.

Evans wound up with a fine silver medal, while there was a bronze for Ogogo after he lost his semi-final against Brazil’s eventual silver medalist Esquiva Falcao by 16-9.

Joshua won super-heavyweight gold for our second ring title, while Adams made history for the women with another gold.

Jonas lost at the quarter-final stage to Ireland’s eventual gold medalist Katie Taylor, while Marshall lost to Kazakhstan’s eventual bronze medalist Marina Volnova.

Our final medal tally at London 2012 was three golds, one silver and one bronze, a fine turn out for the home crowd and the first time GB had won three golds at the summer Olympics.

As for the Rio 2016 Games, there was much to live up to when it came to potential medal success and 10 men qualified, eight via a European Qualifying tournament and two via a World Qualifying event. Two women also secured places in Rio via the World Championships in 2016.

Of the men light-flyweight Galal Yafai won his opening contest then lost via a split decision (2-1) to eventual gold medalist Joahnys Argilagas from Cuba, while flyweight Muhammad Ali drew a tough one in his opening bout losing 3-0 to eventual silver medalist from Venezuela Yoel Finol.

Bantamweight Qais Ashfaq lost first time out and lightweight Joe Cordina, after winning his opening contest, was also eliminated, while light-welterweight Pat McCormack lost a split decision to Cuba’s eventual bronze medalist Yasnier Toledo.

Welterweight Josh Kelly won his opener, then lost to Kazakhstan’s eventual gold medalist Daniyar Yeleussinov, while middleweight Anthony Fowler lost his opener.

Light-heavyweight Joshua Buatsi won three bouts to claim a bronze medal, before being unanimously outpointed (3-0) by Kazakhstan’s eventual silver medalist Adilbek Niyazymbetov but Hackney heavyweight Lawrence Okolie won his first bout, then met Cuban Erislandy Savon who triumphed 3-0 on his way to a bronze medal.

Earlsfield’s super-heavyweight Joe Joyce won silver, after some controversial judging denied him the gold medal which many thought he had deserved and should have received.

As for our women, henomenal flyweight Adams successfully defended her Olympic crown, while middleweight Marshall was also competing in her second successive Games and won her first contest, then lost 2-0 to eventual silver medalist from the Netherlands Nouchka Fontijn.

So Team GB left Rio with a reasonable medal tally of one gold, one silver and one bronze, not as good as London 2012, but still a very commendable effort in the face of such tough competition with standards rising all the time.

So starting with the Olympic qualifying events in 1996 our medal tally is as follows – 1996 (0); 2000 (1 gold); 2004 (1 silver); 2008 (1 gold, 2 bronze); 2012 (3 golds, 1 silver, 1 bronze); 2016 (1 gold, 1 silver, 1 bronze).

That makes a total of 13 medals overall, about 25 per cent of the total number of medals that GB has gained since the London Games of 1908. Currently we have secured 56 medals overall thanks to 18 gold, 13 silver and 25 bronze.

Our recent good form at the summer Games is due in large part to the excellent work of GB Boxing’s Performance Director Robert McCracken MBE, who was appointed in 2009 to succeed Terry Edwards, who was appointed head coach in 2000 and had a particularly good Games in Beijing with three medals.

Things have really taken a good upturn, medal-wise, since the appointment of McCracken with eight medals won altogether in 2012 and 2016 and hopes remain high for Tokyo 2021.

The qualifying competitions have undoubtedly ramped up the quality of some of the boxers now competing in the summer Games and also the entertainment value too for spectators actually

attending the events as well as millions also watching world wide on television and other media outlets.

GB Boxing is in a good place now, let’s hope it continues to be so for 2021 and well beyond.

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