MEN’S FINALS

THE wait was long. Anthony Joshua stood in the centre of the ring, raising his fist with surprising confidence, despite the uncertain outcome of the Olympic super-heavyweight final. The crowd, normally so deafening, waited in comparative silence, longing for the emergence of a new British heavyweight star.

But Roberto Cammarelle, the reigning champion, had shown all his guile in the first two rounds. Picking openings in Joshua’s defence, he expertly stole points at the end of the opening round. Joshua had begun well. He stayed on the outside, kept his feet moving and forced the Italian, a southpaw counter-puncher in style, to come to him. Anthony’s right hand struggled to find its mark but his left jab was key. The long range-finder harried Cammarelle while the Italian tried to draw Joshua and dart his own right lead over the top. Finally he stalked Anthony into a corner. The right hook struck, the weight of it turning Joshua’s head. That broke his defence momentarily and Cammarelle fired more into the target.

The Italian great was a point ahead after the first round, not necessarily an insurmountable lead. Joshua had rallied from here before. In last year’s World Championships the Briton had come back from a similar deficit to record his breakthrough win. But Cammarelle had learned his lesson from that too. In the second round, Joshua ducked a shot but Roberto hooked his left up, finding him. The Italian continued to open paths for his lead right to land. He nudged Joshua towards a corner again, marshalling their movement across the canvas.

All of a sudden the Londoner was three points adrift, a desperately wide gap to cover with only one round remaining. Joshua forced himself in, driving with his legs, dredging up punches, straining against the Italian. Cammarelle looked to tie him up. Anthony stuck to the task and hammered heavy shots down the middle but he was striving against the tide of the Italian’s experience and the scoreboard running against him. He opened up on Roberto, with the crowd roaring in his ears, but the Italian knew when to smother him. By the final bell it was impossible to tell whether he had won the last round conclusively enough to turn the result his way.

So the wait was long. The judges had them level at 18-18 initially. It went to countback, going to Joshua 56-53.

“In the third round it got tough. I just won’t ever give up in there. I keep on pushing till the last bell,” he said. “My legs and everything were killing me. Sometimes I wanted to stop but my mind was working and my arms were just flying around.”

The close nature of the final shows Joshua is still a work in progress. But a super-heavyweight, just 22 and with only 43 bouts to his name, who’s boxed for a mere four years, has tremendous upside potential. Joshua did say he wanted to stay amateur as long as possible.

“I need more experience,” he explained. “Sometimes when I box it’s hard against more experienced fighters. I want to dominate everyone in the amateurs. Become a World champion, become European champion. I’d really love to do that. I’m learning at each tournament so the more tournaments I go to the more I’ll improve as a fighter.” But this personable, English speaking heavyweight, with punch power and an Olympic gold medal round his neck is now the hottest property in the sport.

Luke Campbell brought his best performance to the biggest occasion, the 56 kgs Olympic final. The Englishman had said before the tournament he’d like to meet John Joe Nevin on the last day, a fate he may have begun to dread after seeing the Irishman’s form through each stage of the competition.

But the southpaw from Hull got himself in the ascendancy in the bout’s opening minute, so crucial in amateur boxing and a skill at which Campbell is the consummate artist.

He let his punches run through the air, these not scoring but smoothly covering the space between them. His cross lanced in, while Nevin sent a right hook to the body. Luke’s jab orchestrated the bout, not damaging John Joe but scoring touches throughout. Nevin had worked brilliantly off the outside prior to this but Campbell’s nerve held. He lured the man from Mullingar into coming to him.

“The plan was to draw him in because if he’d have got on his backfoot, that’s what suits him best. So I needed to take that away from him,” said Luke.

It was technical duel, high speed, the two thinking all the time. Nevin flung in a sudden right hand towards the end of the second round but in the last Luke dug his right hook across John Joe’s jaw, dropping him. The Irishman was unhurt but took a standing count nevertheless. “After that I just had to carry on with what I was doing, not being silly,” said Campbell. “I wasn’t looking for the stoppage whatsoever. He’s a class fighter, very tough, he’s strong himself. My plan was just to flow, let the punches go, move side to side and listen to my coaches.”

He saw out the contest, in response to a cross catching Nevin with his left hook, dabbing a straight left back to answer the Irishman’s right. At the bell Luke thrust both arms in the air. He knew he had it. 14-11 was the final score in Campbell’s favour. When referee Jones Kennedy raised his fist to confirm the win, fresh tears gleamed in Luke’s eyes.

“I wanted to get this gold medal for me, for all the hard work I’ve put in, for my family to be proud, for Great Britain to be proud. For me to represent them I just wanted the gold medal,” said Luke. “It’s a very close team. We train together, we live together, we travel the world together and each and every one of us wants each other to succeed and do the best we can.

“We all push each other on. We’re there to help each other. We’re all there to support each other and that goes a long way.”

Nevin was desperate for victory himself and the Irish team, with his silver, Katie Taylor’s gold and two bronze medals has had a great Games. “I’m heart broken now,” said the Irishman. “I wanted to join the club with Katie Taylor and [1992 gold medallist] Michael Carruth but if it’s not meant to be, it’s not meant to be. Luke is a tremendous boxer, a tremendous boxer. I can take nothing away from him.”

Welterweight Fred Evans could not join his countrymen on top of the podium but his silver medal is the mark of a fine tournament. Serik Sapiyev, a southpaw like Fred, boxed in full possession of his sporting intelligence and skill through every minute of their bout. The Kazakh’s hands moved fast, worrying the Welshman’s guard constantly. When Fred looked to counter he found Sapiyev’s combinations drilling through.

Evans was stuck manoeuvring round the outside of those punches. His abilities were evident in the slick movement of his feet and the slipping and sliding of his head, but Sapiyev had forced him onto the defensive and the Kazakh kept him there. By the last round Fred was caught in a dilemma: go hell for leather, as he had done in previous bouts, and risk leaving himself vulnerable to an even greater volume of shots; or attempt to box his way out of trouble. He tried pivoting off his lead right hook and bowling his left over the top but couldn’t make an impact, bowing out 17-9.

“I had four hard fights before, my body’s feeling a bit drained,” said Fred. “I didn’t stick to my game plan. Then when he pulled away å å with a few it’s hard to come back against a top, experienced fighter like he is. He was really on form. I think anyone in with him today would have found it difficult to beat him. My game plan was to start off fast, pick up points so he had to come to me. Obviously he got ahead first. I was trying to keep my guard tight and counter him and put him under pressure a little bit more. I knew if I come in there swinging, he’s just going to pick me off more again. I’d fall into his hands then. I felt like I caught him with a few good shots.”

Sapiyev’s efforts throughout the Olympic fortnight brought him the Val Barker trophy for best boxer.

With the three gold medals from Campbell, Joshua and Nicola Adams, Evans’ silver and Anthony Ogogo’s bronze, Great Britain topped the boxing medal table, ahead of powerhouses like Cuba, Ukraine and Russia, with GB boxing’s best Olympic results since 1920, the most golds since 1908 (when every medallist bar one was British) and, given the development of the modern sport, this Olympic team can fairly claim to be the best in British boxing history.

Cuba’s Roniel Iglesias looked sensational winning light-welterweight gold. Denys Berinchyk barrelled into him but Iglesias ripped open his defences with his southpaw combinations. Gradually Roniel turned on the power, remarkably forcing the iron-willed Ukrainian into backwards steps and winning 22-15. Iglesias’ countryman, flyweight Robeisy Ramirez didn’t look as incredible as he had earlier in the competition but, only 18 years of age, saw off Mongolia’s Tugstsogt Nyambayar 17-14 to win gold.

Korea’s Han Soonchul could do nothing to hold off great lightweight Vasyl Lomachenko. The Ukrainian’s footwork brought him easily round Han’s jab and Vasyl fired in his southpaw left, leaving no doubt about the outcome, which he sealed 19-9.

Italy’s Clemente Russo’s style involves mauling opponents and sneaking in his points. That may have brought him to the final but Oleksandr Usyk, another Ukrainian, made sure of a 14-11 win.

China’s Zou Shiming grabbed a lead and found ways to thwart Kaeo Pongprayoon’s efforts to box. Zou ran into holds, pushed the Thai back and though the referee, Yasar Cinar, gave Shiming a public warning in the last round, the referee promptly gave Pongrayoon a similar penalty. The crowd voiced their displeasure at Zou’s 13-10 win but nevertheless the Chinese light-fly is now a two-time Olympic champion.

It went to the wire but Egor Mekhontcev, at 81 kgs, secured Russia’s only gold medal in this tournament, beating Kazakhstan’s Adilbek Niyazymbetov on countback after the two were tied 15-15.

Middleweight Ryota Murata became Japan’s first Olympic gold medallist in 48 years after he beat Brazil’s Esquiva Falcao 14-13. “I have stamina towards the end,” said Murata. “I just have a little bit more ability and put in a bit more effort than other boxers. I am proud of achieving my goal. I think it is a miracle for a Japanese boxer to win, but I thought I could do it.”

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