The Olympic boxing tournament in Tokyo built to a dramatic climax with four finals today resulting in gold medal joy for Britain’s Lauren Price and Ireland’s Kellie Harrington, but a double dose of disappointment for the United States.
The 27-year-old Price from Wales added Olympic gold to her 2019 world championship title after outboxing and outfoxing the 2018 world champion and 2016 Olympic bronze medal winner Li Qian of China in the female middleweight final. She thus became the first ever Welsh boxer to win Olympic gold, Fred Evans having won welterweight silver in 2012 and Ralph Evans light-flyweight bronze in 1972.
In the first round, the 31-year-old Li made the fatal mistake of standing back and feinting ineffectively, allowing southpaw Price to seize control of the fight with her fast footwork. Price’s counter-punching flurries beat her taller foe to the punch as she swept the round on all five judges’ cards.
Li continued to struggle with Price’s speed and movement in round two, landing little of note, as the Welshwoman scored with swift jabs and controlled the ring with her smart movement. With four judges to one giving Price the stanza, Li needed a near miracle or stoppage in the final round to deny her.
But Price never looked in danger of ceding her advantage. She continued to box and move in the final round, winning the gold medal at a canter, punctuating her triumph with a sharp combination that forced Li’s head back in the final 40 seconds. All five judges gave Price the fight as she became the second British woman, after double flyweight gold medalist Nicola Adams, to win Olympic gold.
“I can’t really put it in to words. It’s a dream come true,” she told BBC Sport after the fight. “It goes to show years of hard work – if you dream and work hard enough you can achieve anything. Thanks to everyone who supported me from starting off at eight years old and a big shout-out to everyone who has supported me. Looks like we’re getting a gold post-box outside my house!”
Price then paid tribute to the grandparents who raised her, including her grandfather who passed away last year.
“This is for him and my nan. I know he was looking down on me today and all week really. I can’t really put it into words what they’ve done for me over the years and obviously I just love them both so much. I can’t wait to go back and see my nan, see everyone and show my medal off.”
Price’s victory capped a strong Games for Rob McCracken’s squad of British boxers, who ended with six medals (two gold, two silver and two bronze) and the runners-up slot in the boxing medals table.
Earlier, in the female lightweight final, Ireland’s Kellie Harrington toppled the reigning world amateur champion Beatriz Ferreira of Brazil to become just the third Irish boxer to win Olympic boxing gold, following in the footsteps of Michael Carruth (1992, male welterweight) and Katie Taylor (2012, female lightweight).
The 31-year-old from Dublin won a unanimous 5-0 decision after a nip and tuck fight. The 28-year-old Ferreira moved forward aggressively throughout, but Harrington’s movement and sharp, eye-catching counter-punching carried the day.
The other two bouts of the final day of the boxing tournament saw double disappointment for the United States, as both of their representatives in action – lightweight Keyshawn Davis and super-heavyweight Richard Torrez Jr – were forced to settle for silver, leaving the most successful nation in Olympic boxing history without a single gold medal at these Games.
In perhaps the most eagerly awaited bout of the Games, the 22-year-old Davis from Norfolk, Virginia met Cuba’s Andy Cruz in the male lightweight final. A tense opening round was edged 4-1 by Cruz, whose work rate, movement and sharp right-handed counters trumped Davis’ forward movement.
Davis fought back strongly in the second, inconveniencing Cruz with a couple of sharp, hard rights, only for the Cuban to respond by wobbling the American with a counter-right. Davis’ greater aggression saw him sweep the round on all five cards though, leaving the bout in the balance heading into the third and final round.
Both men had their successes in the concluding three minutes, but Cruz’s greater accuracy and superior combinations, and ability to land a shot while avoiding a counter, saw him crowned the victor by a split decision, winning on four scorecards to one.
Thus the 25-year-old double world amateur champion was crowned Olympic champion, securing Cuba’s fourth boxing gold medal of a wonderful Games, which sees them top the boxing medals table for the first time since 2004 – a remarkable achievement given the social unrest and turmoil in the country at present.
Despite his defeat Davis, 3-0 as a pro, can head back to the paid ranks proud of what he has achieved by winning silver. “I’m a champion, whether I got the gold medal or not,” he insisted to the TV cameras after the decision was announced.
Davis’ defeat left Richard Torrez as the United States’ sole remaining gold medal hope in their quest for a first male Olympic boxing champion since Andre Ward in 2004. The 22-year-old super-heavyweight hope from Tulare, California, faced a stern challenge in the forbidding form of Bakhodir Jalolov of Uzbekistan, who brutally KO’d him in the opening round of the 2019 World championships.
Now an 8-0 (8 KOs) pro, the 27-year-old Uzbek withstood a spirited effort from the American in an exciting contest. Torrez did everything he could to overcome his disadvantages of size, height and power. From the outset, the American bobbed and weaved in an attempt to discomfort Jalolov, bringing the attack to the Uzbek and stiffening his legs with a big left over the top in round one. The American was outworking and out-hustling Jalolov, who looked uncomfortable fighting on the retreat, and Torrez duly took the round on three cards to two.
Torrez continued to show effective and ceaseless aggression at the beginning of round two. However the fight then swung dramatically back in Jalolov’s direction when Torrez was deducted a point for use of the head and shortly afterwards was badly hurt by a big left to the temple which saw him hanging on for dear life and given a standing count.
Jalolov was now timing his heavy shots and finding the target with regularity and swept the round on all the judges’ cards. Torrez never stopped striving or moving forward in the third round, but Jalolov’s size and experience proved too much.
The 276th and final bout of a wonderful Olympic boxing tournament thus ended with the Uzbek’s hand being deservedly raised after a 5-0 unanimous decision.
Main image: Lauren Price. Photo: GB Boxing.