GB boxers enjoy European Games successes
- Credit: PA
The European Games had their inaugural meeting in 2015 as an international multi-sport event in the Olympic tradition contested by athletes from the continent.
The European Olympic Committee envisaged the Games and governs them, with amateur boxing for men and women among the events included.
For the first Games in 2015, there were 10 weights for men and five for women, also for the Games of 2019.
Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, was the location for the first European Games and Great Britain did very well in the ring, winning two gold medals and three bronze medals,
Big-punching Londoner and super-heavyweight Joe Joyce won gold after outscoring Russian Gasan Gimbatov (3-0) in the final, having had an explosive tournament.
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Joyce’s first two opponents, Moldovan Alexei Zavatin and Lithuanian Mantas Valavicius, were defeated in the opening round of their bouts, while in the semi-final Fenchman Tony Yoka was outscored (3-0).
However, Yoka turned the tables on Joyce at the 2016 Rio Olympics, getting a controversial decision over the Londoner that still prompts discussion and surprise to this day.
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Gaining bronze in Baku were Qais Ashfaq of Leeds (56kg), who lost in his semi-final to eventual silver medallist Dzmitry Asanau from Belarus and Sunderland’s Josh Kelly (69kg), who lost in his semi-final to Azerbaijan’s eventual gold medal winner, Parviz Baghirov.
As for the GB women, gold went to Nicola Adams (51kg), who beat Poland’s Sandra Drabik (2-0) in their final showdown after outscoring Hungarian Katalin Ancsin (3-0), Stoya Petrova (2-0) from Bulgaria in the quarter-final and Turkey’s Elif Coskun (3-0) in the semi-final.
Bronze went to Derby’s Sandy Ryan (64kg) who lost (3-0) in her semi-final to Russia’s eventual gold medallist, Anastasia Belyakova.
The 2019 Gaes in Minsk, capital of Belarus, saw GB win two more gold medals, a silver and four bronze.
The men’s gold medal came from Sunderland’s Pat McCormack who had to box five times and won his first three bouts with identical scores of 5-0 against Laszlo Kovak (Hungary), Pavel Komanin (Estonia) and Monaco’s Hugo Micallef.
His semi-final opponent was Cuban-born Lorenzo Sotomayor, who was now living in Azerbaijan having taken their nationality in the hope of acquiring medals in international competition, which he saw as a better alternative than remaining in his Havana birthplace.
Although he linked up with the celebrated Cuban coach Peter Roque Otano in Baku, it did not work out for him on this occasion as McCormack forced a third-round stoppage to set up a final clash with Russia’s Khariton Agbra.
McCormack triumphed with another 5-0 scoreline to win gold, while silver came from the fists of light-heavyweight Benjamin Whittaker from West Bromwich, who lost to another Cuban-born opponent in Alfonso Dominguez Leon, who had also left his island homeland and taken Azerbaijan citizenship to further his boxing career given that competition was so tough in his birthplace and better opportunities for success at international level were to be found thousands of miles away in an emerging boxing country like Azerbaijan.
The native Cuban won a 3-2 split decision, but it was a great effort by Whittaker nevertheless.
It is not unusual for athletes, including boxers, to take up nationality in countries other than their birth as some years back a number of African amateur boxers, particularly from some of the west African nations, moved to Europe and Scandinavia in particular to further their ring countries with some measure of success.
Four men won bronze medals, flyweight Galai Yafai, bantamweight Peter McGrail, light-welterweight Luke McCormack (twin brother of welterweight gold medallist Pat) and heavyweight Jamaican-born Cheavon Clarke.
Yafai lost in his semi-final to Bulgaria’s eventual silver medallist Daniel Asenov, McGrail lost in his semi-final bout to Kurt Walker – Ireland’s eventual gold medallist – McCormack lost his semi-final to France’s eventual silver medallist Sofiane Oumiha, while Clarke was bested in his semi-final by Uladzislau Smiahlikau from Belarus.
GB’s lone female medallist in Minsk was Welsh middleweight Lauren Price who boxed three times for gold, winning 5-0 against Ireland’s Aoife O’Rourke, then 5-0 over Russia’s Darima Sandakova to set up a final clash with Nouchka Fontijn from the Netherlands. Price triumphed 4-1 to cap a wonderful tournament for herself and her country.
In the European Games, GB men have secured two gold medals, one silver medal and six bronze and the women have landed two golds and one bronze.
That represents a very good return in a fledgling tournament and GB is hot on the heels of leading countries like Azerbaijan, Russia, Ireland and the Ukraine.
The European Games of 2023 are to take place in Krakow, in Poland.