QUARTER-FINALS

THE contribution Thomas Stalker has made to the British team cannot be overstated. The project that targeted this Olympic Games has been years in the making. Many saw Stalker’s 2010 victory over the then World champion, Domenico Valentino, as the catalyst for the team’s tremendous medal-winning run that encompassed two European championships as well both the men’s and women’s World championships. Stalker, the captain, laboured at the heart of the effort. If he had won this 64 kgs quarter-final, against Mongolia’s Munkh-Erdene Uranchimeg, he would have medalled at every major tournament; the Commonwealth Games, the Europeans (twice), the Worlds and then finally the Olympics.

That final podium eluded him. It made it all the more agonising for his team-mates to see him lose by a single point, agonising for Stalker as well to be unable to take the team across the finish line himself.

But he gave it everything. Knowing he was behind, Stalker poured punches on to Uranchimeg in the last round, finishing bursts of straight shots. Every now and again he left himself open and the Mongolian swung over a hook that jolted the Liverpudlian’s head. Ultimately Uranchimeg hung on to his advantage, winning the bout 23-22.

“My soul is full of emotion,” the Mongolian said. “I have been in the Olympics three times now – Athens, Beijing and now London. It has been my long-standing dream to get a medal, which I have now achieved.”

GB flyweight Andrew Selby had the misfortune of meeting the eventual champion just ahead of the medal stages. Cuba’s Robeisy Ramirez stayed cool, arms up in a watertight guard. Selby let his fast hands flail at that defence but his shots weren’t scoring. The Cuban southpaw let him work, before firing blows straight through on him, triumphing 16-11 in a hugely impressive performance.

“I was throwing combinations, getting my shots off. My trainer was telling me to put my hands up after I finished a combination but he was just getting me before I could get my hands up. He was a very clever boxer,” said Andrew, the World silver medallist and European champion.

“I could have boxed more and not got involved. I was staying on the ropes. To the judges it looks like he’s picking off more than me. I just needed to get off the ropes now again. He wasn’t so much fast, he was just clever. He knew when to hit me at the right time and he was very strong. I couldn’t have asked for a better year last year. I wanted to top it off with getting a medal. It just wasn’t my time.”

Fred Evans dominated the first round of his quarter-final against Custio Clayton to such an extent that it looked like their 69 kgs quarter-final would become a question of whether Evans would stop the Canadian. But the scoring of the second round crept up for Clayton and Fred was far too lax in the third and final round. Level 14-14, it went to a countback, that should never have been required, but luckily for the Welshman the final outcome was in his favour. “I always thought I was ahead. It was nerve-racking,” Fred admitted of waiting for the result.

He had watched Selby’s bout while warming up and said, “I was gutted for him. I’d love to have him beside me. Obviously it knocks the spirit down a little bit seeing a teammate who you’ve known for years, I know how much he wanted it.”

Errol Spence, reinstated after an unfair loss, was America’s last hope for a medal from their men’s team. But he could not outpoint Russia’s Andrey Zamkovoy, losing 16-11.

“I started a little bit slow. I could have started a little bit faster than what I did. Overall he’s a good fighter. We’re kind of familiar with each other because we fought in March. Overall he’s a good strong fighter. He was just the better man today. It took me a while to figure him out. Usually I start real slow to feel my opponents out but today it hurt me.

“I was real disappointed I left the tournament the way I did when I fought the Indian boxer. But to have a guy being better than me, that’s not a disappointment. I’d rather go out like that than how I did against the Indian boxer,” said Spence.

He also explained the flaws in America’s amateur boxing system lucidly, “We need more international fights early. We can’t rush into things like we did and we need the coaches earlier than we did and have a load of professional boxers, who leave the amateur system, come back in and help out. They have a lot of experience, a lot of knowledge that they can give to us. That would help us in 2016.

“A lot of fighters that’s here [in London], they’re used to each other, they know each other. You see them shaking hands, talking to each other, they’re familiar with each other because they know each other.

“Fighting an international fighter is always unusual because of the awkward style that they have and that made me start out a little bit late like I have been doing this tournament. I’ll take nothing from him, he fought a good fight.”

Irish 49 kgs Paddy Barnes rediscovered his best form against India’s Devendro Singh Laishram. The Indian has fast hands, is a nifty mover but Barnes advanced on him with menace, gloves up, chin tucked down and lanced straight, far-reaching shots across Laishram’s chin. A composed performance brought Paddy a 23-18 victory.

“Even qualifying for the Olympics was a dream come true,” said the Irishman, a veteran of the Beijing Games, “but now I’ve got two medals. I’m over the moon.”

Michael Conlan, 52 kgs, took on France’s Nordine Oubaali in an all-southpaw clash. The Frenchman forced Conlan along the outer fringes of the ring, chopping his rear left hook in. The Irishman kept himself in touch, finally managing to hurt Oubaali with a right hook in the third round. He dug out a handful of big shots just before the bell, which may have sealed it, 22-18.

Alexis Vastine was left outraged after his 18-18 draw with the Ukraine’s 69 kgs Taras Shelestyuk went against him on countback.

Brazil’s Yamaguchi Falcao, brother of their 75 kgs Esquiva, shocked 81 kgs World champion, Cuba’s Julio la Cruz, 18-15 in their quarter-final.

Gabriel Maestre, Venezuela’s welterweight, managed to rock Serik Sapiyev in the second round of their quarter-final but the Kazakh master was not going to be denied, making sure of a 20-9 win.

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