Boxing: Cuba’s resurgence to Olympic glory for 13 Golds at Tokyo 2020 | Sunday Observer

Boxing: Cuba’s resurgence to Olympic glory for 13 Golds at Tokyo 2020

12 September, 2021
Andy Cruz of Cuba celebrates victory in Men’s Lightweight (57-63kg)
Andy Cruz of Cuba celebrates victory in Men’s Lightweight (57-63kg)

At the Summer Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, the boxing medal table was led by Cuba with 4 gold medals and one bronze. The Great Britain came second with 2 gold, 2 silver and 2 bronze medals. The Russian Olympic Committee secured one gold, one silver and 4 bronze medals. Brazil, Turkey, Japan, Ireland, Bulgaria and Uzbekistan managed to win a gold medal each.

The boxing at Tokyo 2020 took place from July 24 to August 8, 2021 at the Ryogoku Kokugikan with 291 boxers representing 81 nations. A total of 25 nations shared 13 sets of medals that included 13 gold, 13 silver and 26 bronze medals. The author believes boxing as a potential sport for Sri Lanka to reach the Olympic podium.

Boxing is all about two athletes square up to each other in a ring, and victory is gained by the athlete who more successfully lands blows to their opponent’s head and torso. This is a simple summary of a sport that featured at the ancient Olympic Games in the 7th century BC, when opponents fought with strips of leather wrapped around their fists.

In ancient Olympia, boxing bouts would continue ‘until the opponent concedes or loses consciousness’ and at countless times the sport was banned for being extremely brutal. In Great Britain during the 19th century, boxing was formalized with rules that included the wearing of gloves. Since then, boxers have become renowned for their sporting demeanor, with opponents showing immense respect for each other’s courage and physical commitment.

Boxing has featured at all modern Olympic Games since St. Louis 1904, with the exception of Stockholm 1912. Women’s events were a popular addition to the program at London 2012. At Tokyo 2020, number of weight classes for men was reduced from 10 to 8, with a featherweight class introduced and events at light-flyweight, bantamweight and light-welterweight removed. The women’s weight classes saw a corresponding increase from 3 to 5, with featherweight and welterweight categories introduced.

The sport is hugely popular worldwide and many boxers who competed at the Olympic Games have gone on to gain global fame - none more so than the late Muhammad Ali of the United States. Ali won gold in the light-heavyweight at Rome 1960 Olympics under the name Cassius Clay and became one of the most recognized and respected men on the planet.

On May 22, 2019, the International Olympic Committee announced that the International Boxing Association had been stripped of the right to organize the tournament, due to “issues in the areas of finance, governance, ethics and refereeing and judging.” Boxing was instead organized by an ad-hoc task force led by Morinari Watanabe, President of the International Gymnastics Federation.

Each National Olympic Committee was permitted to enter up to one athlete in each event. Six places (four men and two women) were reserved for the host nation Japan, while eight further places (five men and three women) were allocated to the Tripartite Invitation Commission. All other places were allocated through four Continental Olympic Qualification Events (one each for Africa, the Americas, Asia/Oceania and Europe) between January 2020 and June 2021.

Winning an Olympic Medal for Sri Lanka

Boxing in Sri Lanka has been in the forefront amongst Olympic sports. This is evident from our participation at the successive Summer Olympic Games from London 1948 to Mexico City 1968. Significantly, the contingent to London 1948, included 4 legendary boxers in Eddie Gray, Leslie Handunge, Alex Obeysekara and Albert Perera.

Ever since, the pugilists continued to be part of the Olympic Games, with Leslie Handunge (1948 and 1952), Basil Henricus (1952), Chandrasena Jayasuriya and Hempala Jayasuriya (1956), Sumith Liyanage and Dharmasiri Weerakoon (1960), Winston Van Cuylenburg and Malcolm Bulner (1964), Hatha Karunaratne (1968) and Anurudha Rathnayake (2008) representing the country and dominating boxing at elite level.

With the significant contributions made at present by the Minister of Sports and Youth Affairs, Hon. Namal Rajapakse to support and uplift ‘High Performance’ in Sri Lanka, the Boxing Association of Sri Lanka under the dynamic leadership of Dian Gomes has a golden opportunity to align the boxers and coaches and to focus on winning an Olympic medal possibly at Los Angeles 2028.

A tough and committed taskmaster and ‘God Father’ of the present generation of Sri Lankan boxers, Dian Gomes, dubbed the ‘Cornerman’ since releasing his book containing stories of his life, took the reins of boxing as the President in 2004. Ever since, he has certainly revived and uplifted the sport to greater heights by providing the much-needed strategic leadership to the admiration of all stakeholders.

At the Commonwealth Games at Gold Coast in 2018, Anusha Kodithuwakku won a bronze in 48 kg to become the first Sri Lankan woman to win an elite medal. Besides, Barney Henricus, a gold in Featherweight (1938), K. Edwin and Albert Perera, silver medals in Flyweight and Bantamweight (1950), Alex Obeysekera, a bronze in Welterweight (1950) and Thiwanka Ranasinghe (49 kg) and Vidanalage Bandara (52 kg) with bronze medals (2018) have excelled.

At the Asian Games, Hemapala Jayasuriya, a silver in Bantamweight (1954), Chandrasena Jayasuriya, a bronze in Featherweight (1954), Senarath Jayasuriya, a bronze in Flyweight (1962), Wijayanim Perera, a bronze in Flyweight (1978) and Hallesage Caldera, a bronze in Bantamweight (1978) have brought honour to our country.

Spirit of Boxing at Olympics

An Olympics, a boxing match last 3 rounds, each of 3 minutes. Five judges sit at the side of the ring, watch the bout and individually award points for what they deem to be successful hits. The referee can end a match if the difference between the fighters is such that the match should not continue or if a doctor indicates the match should be stopped.

A match can also end if a competitor receives three warnings (penalties) and is disqualified or if a competitor is unable to resume a fight within 10 secs, in which case they are considered knocked out (‘KO’). Although the aim and rules of boxing are simple, the fighting styles of its competitors are wide-ranging and distinctive. This is what makes boxing such a fascinating and exciting sport.

A heavy-hitting boxer seeking to pile on heavy punches may be matched against an opponent with a sound defence who will wait for their rival to tire before striking decisively. Some will want to fight at close-quarters, others from distance. All boxes must take care to pace themselves, and some will demonstrate superb footwork to move around the ring and hit hard.

Winners of Men’s Olympic Gold Medals

Men’s Flyweight (52kg): In the gold medal bout, Galal Yafai landed a big left and followed up with a solid right to score a rare knockdown. Despite that, the five judges at ringside only scored it 10-9, but four of them gave Yafai a close second round to put him in a commanding position. That was the cue for the Briton to get on his bike, knowing he just had to stay out of trouble to gain the points verdict.

Gold - Galal Yafai (GBR); Silver - Carlo Paalam (PHI); Bronze - Saken Bibossinov (KAZ) and TANAKA Ryomei (JPN)

Men’s Featherweight (57kg): Albert Batyrgaziev got the better of Duke Ragan in the men’s featherweight final. The two 23-year boxes arrived in Japan on the back of professional experience. The former kick boxer from the ROC made history, becoming the first professional to win an Olympic gold in boxing. Ragan was unable to live with his opponent’s fast pace, particularly in the first two rounds, and would relish a rematch over a longer distance as a professional.

Gold - Albert Batyrgaziev (ROC); Silver - Duke Ragan (USA); Bronze - Lazaro Alvarez (CUB) and Samuel Takyi (GHA)

Men’s Lightweight (63kg): The 26-year Andy Cruz started the busier and Davis, who has already been talked of as a potential world champion, struggled to land telling blows. Davis was given the second round on all five scorecards to leave him ahead with one judge and all square with the other four. But it was Cruz who upped the intensity in the third, landing the crisper shots to take a deserved 4-1 split decision.

Gold - Andy Cruz (CUB); Silver - Keyshawn Davis (USA); Bronze - Harry Garside (AUS) and Hovhannes Bachkov (ARM)

Men’s Welterweight (69kg): Roniel Iglesias got the ball rolling with victory over Pat McCormack in the welterweight final. McCormack was on the canvas early in round two after a solid left from Iglesias, but the referee adjudged it a slip rather than a knockdown. It was a remarkable triumph for the 32-year southpaw in his fourth Olympic Games after bronze at Beijing 2008 and gold at London 2012 at light-welterweight, and a controversial welterweight quarter-final exit at Rio 2016.

Gold - Roniel Iglesias (CUB); Silver - Pat McCormack (GBR); Bronze - Andrei Zamkovoi (ROC) and Aidan Walsh (IRL)

Men’s Middleweight (75kg): Oleksander Khyzhniak took the opening two rounds and Hebert Sousa did not appear to have too much in response to the top seed’s aggression from the opening bell, except for a couple of solid rights. Khyzhniak carried a two-point lead on all five scorecards and only needed to avoid being caught to take gold, but he continued to charge forward in trademark fashion with Sousa trying to load up the right uppercut. In round three, Khyzhniak left himself open and Sousa landed a left hook flush on the jaw and the favourite looked stunned as he hit the deck.

Gold - Hebert Sousa (BRA); Silver - Oleksander Khyzhniak (UKR); Bronze - Gleb Bakshi (ROC) and Eumir Marcial (PHI)

Men’s Light-Heavyweight (81kg): Arlen Lopez beat Ben Whittaker, in the light-heavyweight final. Whittaker was never able to get back into the bout after being too passive in the opening round. That was of no concern to Lopez, who followed up his middleweight gold in Rio 2016 with a second Olympic title at a higher weight class.

Gold - Arlen Lopez (CUB); Silver - Ben Whittaker (GBR); Bronze - Loren Alfonso (AZE) and Imam Khataev (ROC)

Men’s Heavyweight (91kg): This was always going to be a contrast of styles with the question whether the resolute Gadzhimagomedov could make his presence felt against the fast, flashy Julio Cesar La Cruz. In the end, it was barely a contest as La Cruz put on a clinic to make another top fighter look very ordinary indeed. The 31-year Cuba boxing captain was simply magnificent with his opponent cutting a frustrated figure at the end.

Gold - Julio Cesar La Cruz (CUB); Silver - Muslim Gadzhimagomedov (ROC); Bronze - Abner Teixeira (BRA) and David Nyika (NZL)

Men’s Super-Heavyweight (+91kg): Bakhodir Jalolov is set for a lucrative professional career after taking super-heavyweight gold in Tokyo 2020. In a repeat of their quarter-final bout at the 2019 World Championships, which Jalolov won by knockout on his way to gold, Richard Torres of the United States was unable to overcome a massive height and reach disadvantage. Torres actually won the first round on three scorecards, but took a standing eight count and had a point deducted in round two as Jalolov powered to victory.

Gold - Bakhodir Jalolov (UZB); Silver - Richard Torres Jr (USA); Bronze - Frazer Clarke (GBR), Kamshybek Kunkabayev (KAZ).

Winners of Women’s Olympic Golds

Women’s Flyweight (51kg): Bulgaria won its first women’s boxing gold thanks to two-time World Championship silver medallist Stoyka Krasteva. The 35-year got the better of fellow southpaw Cakiroglu with Krasteva’s jab catching the eye and the Turk not doing enough on the counter to sway the judges. Krasteva retired in 2018, but came back to claim her country’s first boxing gold since Atlanta 1996.

Gold - Stoyka Krasteva (BUL); Silver - Buse Naz Cakiroglu (TUR); Bronze - NAMIKI Tsukimi (JPN) and HUANG Hsiao-Wen (TPE)

Women’s Featherweight (57kg): Local favourite IRIE Sena used her reach and speed to good advantage as she got the better of the Philippines’ Nesthy Petecio to take the first boxing gold in Tokyo. After coming through 3-2 split decision verdicts against Romania’s Maria Nechita and Britain’s Karriss Artingstall, the 20-year was more convincing in the final. Petecio improved in the second round, but Irie edged the third on all five scorecards to become Japan’s first women’s boxing Olympic champion.

Gold - IRIE Sena (JPN); Silver - Nesthy Petecio (PHI); Bronze - Karriss Artingstall (GBR) and Irma Testa (ITA)

Women’s Lightweight (60kg): The relentless Brazilian Ferreira was considered the favourite going into the bout, and her trademark aggression served her well in the opening exchanges. But Harrington sized her up in the first two minutes and worked out exactly what she needed to do. She confused Ferreira by switching between southpaw and orthodox stances and hit her opponent with almost unerring accuracy. A unanimous decision was the verdict.

This was a last Olympic Games for Mira Potkonen who claimed her second lightweight bronze. At 40, the Finn would normally have been too old to compete in Olympic boxing but that was due to the postponement from last year when she was eligible.

Gold - Kellie Harrington (IRL); Silver - Beatriz Ferreira (BRA); Bronze - Sudaporn Seesondee (THA) and Mira Potkonen (FIN)

Women’s Welterweight (69kg): Busenaz Surmeneli took the first Olympic women’s welterweight title to secure Turkey’s first ever gold in boxing. The 2019 world champion was far from her best with Gu Hong operating effectively on the back foot and not letting her opponent find her rhythm. The Chinese was harshly deducted a point for holding as Surmeneli bored in early in the second round, and given a standing eight count later. It was far from a classic, but the judges gave it 3-0 to Surmeneli with that point deduction not having a bearing in the end, the 23-year was ecstatic at making boxing history.

Gold - Busenaz Surmeneli (TUR); Silver - Gu Hong (CHN); Bronze - Lovlina Borgohain (IND) and Oshae Jones (USA)

Women’s Middleweight (75kg): Lauren Price added Olympic gold to her world title in Tokyo. Price was too quick and accurate for Rio bronze medalist LI Qian. The 27-year southpaw managed to get inside the Chinese boxer’s long reach, scoring with the right jab and some quick combinations to win a comfortable unanimous decision.

Gold - Lauren Price (GBR); Silver - LI Qian (CHN); Bronze - Nouchka Fontijn (NED) and Zenfira Magomedalieva (ROC)

(The author is the winner of Presidential Awards for Sports and recipient of multiple National Accolades for Academic pursuits. He possesses a PhD, MPhil and double MSc. He can be reached at [email protected])

Julio La Cruz of Cuba (blue) won gold in Men’s Heavyweight (81-91kg)