Boxing has become a sport that many, including myself, have come to hate. What was supposed to be a gentlemanly activity (for men and women) was reduced to a pale imitation of itself over the course of the last year. Thanks to the Olympic Games, it has regained some credibility as we’re reminded how much the sport means to these amateur athletes.
I have to admit, boxing isn’t my first choice of sport to watch during this long fortnight. The unique spectacle of beach volleyball, canoe slalom and showjumping is more of draw than two blokes punching each other with comedy gloves but, late at night, sometimes boxing is the only thing left to watch. Those expecting the same ferocity as two heavyweights pounding out a professional 12-round thriller would be left disappointed, because the tactics in a bout a quarter of the length are completely different. In a version of boxing where knockouts are replaced by the need to gain points, fighters are encouraged to go hell for leather and get those sweet jabs to the face instead of creeping around the outside of the ring.
Outside of these Games, the only boxing I’ve ever sat through was David Haye’s clash with Audley Harrison. Ashamedly, I was caught up with the hype, the immense good feeling between all supporters. I was led to believe it would be an entertaining, close battle between two legends of British boxing. As it turned out, Harrison, gold medallist at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, managed to land only one punch in the entirety of the “fight”, losing after just three rounds. Haye hardly gave a confident performance himself and it was a downward spiral for both him and boxing in this country. Haye went on to heavily lose against Wladimir Klitschko, blaming a broken toe for his demise, whilst fellow heavyweight Dereck Chisora courted controversy by slapping Vitali Klitschko in their weight-in before spitting water at his brother. Then came the infamous brawl in Munich between Haye and Chisora that led to last month’s shameful grudge match at West Ham’s Boleyn Ground. With pleasantries shared between the enemies afterwards, you had to wonder if it was one big act and boxing had entered a hole it might take a long time to recover from.
The youngsters competing for Great Britain at their home Olympics are doing their best to reverse that trend and restore pride to a sport that had descended into the madness of WWE wrestling. At the time of writing, Luke Campbell, Anthony Ogogo, Anthony Josuha and Nicola Adams are all guaranteed a medal for Britain by reaching the semi-finals. Andrew Selby, Tom Stalker and Fred Evans are all lying in the quarters, hoping to join their team-mates by securing a minimum bronze, with only three boxers in total crashing out without a medal. In all, only Savannah Marshall failed to get a single victory in London after receiving a bye to the quarters.
Team GB’s success has come from good, honest boxing underlined by hard graft in an unforgiving format against tough, famous opponents. I won’t deny that it has been hugely entertaining to watch them throw in long stabs before dancing out of the way of tiring rivals, urged on by a partisan crowd and the prospect of winning gold at such a young age. As of yet, these skilled amateurs are not motivated by the prospect of money in the professional game, they just want the chance to box. This is so clear in women’s boxing, which was given the chance to shine in the Olympics for the first time. These boxers will probably never get a real chance to box for a living and Nicola Adams’ style, rushing in and clobbering her opponents whilst retaining a modest defence, makes me glad that she won’t. As I mentioned earlier, the Olympics should be the pinnacle of sport, but it clearly isn’t in football and tennis and many would argue that professional boxing title fights are much of an honour. They’re wrong. This spectacle comes round once every four years and so it should. Let the Hayes and Chisoras have their money-grabbing sideshow and let the real competitors battle it out for the gold medals and the adulation of a nation.
I do wish they’d stop holding each other every five seconds, though. What is this, Greco-Roman wrestling?
There wasn’t too much to cheer yesterday in terms of GB medals, but we are fast approaching our Beijing total. Jason Kenny continued cycling dominance in the velodrome, winning the individual sprint two races to nothing against favourite Gregory Bauge, proving what a good decision it was for the youngster to take Sir Chris Hoy’s single place in the event. Earlier, a tense “jump-off” between Britain and the Netherlands’ showjumpers went in our favour and GB won their first showjumping gold medal in 60 years, particularly astounding when you know that Nick Skelton broke his neck a few years ago. In gymnastics, Beth Tweddle ended her relatively long wait for a medal as she took the bronze in the uneven bars. After her qualification last week, I was sure she would challenge for the gold, but her dismount ruined those prospects, yet she seems to be delighted at winning the prize.
I’m a little bit late to the show, but I was enthralled by the 100m competition. Although there were only three rounds, it feels like the carnival has stretched over the last four years, what with the Bolt/Blake battle as well as Dwayne Chambers’ eligibility and the rise of Adam Gemili to claim junior gold. Obviously, it was fantastic news that our three hopes made it through to the semi-final but they were never going to make it to the final showcase with the depth of talent in the field. It was always about the Jamaicans and the Americans and only one of them came out on top.
Almost all of the pre-race attention was focused entirely on Usain Bolt, with almost every pundit unfairly declaring that the 2008 Olympic champion had already won. Had they forgotten that Yohan Blake, Bolt’s training partner, had already run faster than him twice this year and was the world champion? I felt it was his time but I’m glad to be proven wrong, as Bolt is a fantastic winner. Whatever happened, Jamaica is a dominant force in sprinting and probably will be for a long time to come, just as the Kenyans and Ethiopians dominate distance running. Since that night, everyone has speculated what Bolt will do next. Will he defend his title at the age of 29? Should he move onto the 400m and destroy those records, too? Has he really asked to be a trialist for Manchester United? Right now, the 200m is his priority and I wouldn’t put it past him to win it all over again.