Olympic Games preview
By Ognian Georgiev: In the following paragraphs we will try to present the main contenders for the Olympic Games medal podium. The conclusions are based on my personal point of view, and take account of the fighters results over the last couple of years and their performance during the Pre-Olympic months.
283 competitors in 11 weight divisions will test their skills during a16-day marathon tournament (including one rest day before semifinals). Here are the names to focus on...........
Favorites: Sergey Kazakov (RUS) and Yan Bartelemy (CUB)
The boxing "war" between Russia and Cuba will start in the light-flyweight division. Both fighters are unbeaten in Europe and America for the last three years. Kazakov, who is three times Euro champ, qualified for the Games during ECH in Pula. He's the current world champion and became ?1 last year in Bangkok, when scoring a comfortable victory in the final over Zou Chiming (CHA) 23:19. It's interesting to mention that the same Chinese fighter crossed paths with Yan Bartelemy, whose mission was the defence of his world title from Belfast'01. The Cubans loss (15:22) was considered as the biggest surprise in the entire tournament.
Medal contenders: Zou Chiming (CHA), Pal Bedak (HUN)
23-year old Chiming became the first Chinese fighter to win a medal for his country in the history of the world championships. He managed to qualify for Athens in the first Asian tournament in Puerto Princesa (PHI). "I have been his coach for five years and he is the best boxer in China. We are hoping he can win a medal at the Olympics (in Athens) next year", said Zhang Quanliang head coach of the most populated country on our planet after last year's heroism. Bedak is another young fighter, who is seeking glory. He's the former European cadet champ and current ?1 among the old continent's juniors. The Hungarian met Kazakov at the semi-finals stage in Pula's championships and lost by 16:25. But Bedak has a very attractive style and the high scoring of his fights puts put him in contention for breaking many records..
Watch out: Alfonso Pinto (ITA), Alexan Nalbandyan (ARM)
Italian Pinto was a surprise entry amongst the light-flyweight elite during ECH in Pula, where he reached the final. He won silver at the European Union championships in Madrid this year, but at the 51 kg limit. There he was scheduled to fight Jerome Thomas (51 kg), but didn't enter the ring.
Nalbandyan got his ticket for the Olympics in the second European qualifier in Plovdiv, when he totally dominated all the four opponents he met. In the pre-Olympic tournament in Athens he stepped up to the flyweight division. Surprisingly the Armenian veteran beat Olympian Ron Siler (USA) and had a close fight with Cuban Yuriolkis Gamboa (CUB).
Favorites: Georgi Balakshin (RUS), Jerome Thomas (FRA)
Balakshin the Russian has made big progress in the last three years showing great form during the Pula championships. If he maintains the momentum in Greece it will be very difficult for his opponents to beat him. However Balakshin, who is the two time Euro champ, will hold fresh memories from last years world championships, where he lost in quarterfinals!
Thomas is a person, who must always be considered amongst the favourites. The former world champ struggled a little in the Pula championships, but made the decisive jump to the flight for Greece in the second qualification tournament in Warsaw (POL). The Frenchman is the one who can match Balakshin, if he uses the best of his skills in the right time and place.
Medal contenders: Violito Payla (PHI), Yuriolkis Gamboa (CUB), Somjit Jongihor (THA)
Philippine, Violito Payla is one of the most experienced fighters here. Every year he travels to Europe and participates in one of the most prestigious amateur boxing tournaments. Payla secured his place at the first attempt at Puerto Princesa in January and has had enough time to scout and study the other contenders.
Jongihor too reached the Olympics via first Asian qualification. Tournament. The current world champ (and first one in the history of Thailand) became a hero in his homeland and was announced best sportsman for 2003. With a good draw he will have few problems reaching a medal winning level.
Pan American champion Gamboa was eliminated in the Worlds by Jongihor in one of the hottest bouts of the tournament by just one point. The Cuban bounced back to win several tournaments in Europe this year, but surprisingly lost to Rudolf Didy (SVK) by 19::32 in "Usti nad Labem".
Watch out: Ahil Kumar (IND)
Boxing in India has recorded a big surge in the last couple of years. Kumar is the best fighter from the crop of Indian talent and although his best achievement until now is a gold medal at the Afro-Asian Games last year, he's the fighter who may confuse the plans of the big favorites.
Favorites: Guillermo Rigondeaux (CUB)
Guillermo Rigondeaux, known in Cuba as simply 'Rigo', is one of the pearls of amateur boxing. His incredible speed and technique secured for him the Olympic title in Sydney, when he was just 19 years old. Everyone who watched him the following year in Belfast, winning the world title, will remember what may be called the perfect fighter. Starting from 1998 he has recorded only one loss - in last years Bangkok meeting. There, Rigo was eliminated by future world champ Agasi Mamedov (Aze) 13:16. It seems that both fighters will meet again and only time can tell if the Cuban will take his much wanted revenge?
Medal contenders: Agasi Mamedov (AZE), Gennadi Kovalev (RUS), Bahirdirdjon Sultanov (UZB)
"I have been beaten twice by the Cuban so it was good to win today", say AFP Mamedov right after the thrilling fight in Bangkok with Rigo. He lost to the Cuban in Sydney and in Belfast. The win brought partial revenge, but will he go on to cement the advantage? It seems not, if we take in mind the form of the Azerbaijani, a former European champ whilst fighting for Turkey. In ECH 2004 he was totally overplayed by Frenchman Ali Hallab. Mamedov then missed the second qualification in Plovdiv, due to injury and got the 'last train' to Athens in his home land - Baku.
Russian Kovalev was one of the undisputed European champions from Pula. In Croatia he overcame his opponents by huge margins but in the Bangkok final he was beaten by Mamedov 8:17, a loss the Russian coaching team put down to his young age
Sultanov is another young gun. He's a very attractive fighter and one of the biggest hopes for Uzbekistan. The former world junior champion lost in a close fight with Kovalev during the semifinals of WCH 2003.
Watch out: Ali Hallab (FRA)
Frenchman, Hallab is among the best Euro fighters for the third year in a row. A child of the improved French National Team strategy, he continues to learn the secrets of boxing from tournament to tournament. If we flash back to Sydney and light-flyweight Brahim Asloum, we may compare a lot of common things between the winning ways of the current Olympic champion and ask ........'Why not Hallab for Olympic Champion 2004?'
Favorites: Vitaly Tajbert (GER) and Luis Franco (CUB)
Tajbert impressed in the European championships, when he won his first major title in the men's division. The Kazakhstan born German was hidden the by national team coaches and did not participate in international tournaments before the Games. The former world junior champ came back with silver from WCH 2003. Now the target is gold.
Franco as Tajbert is a gold medalist from the World Junior Championships in Budapest'00. During the Cuban tour in Europe and after qualifying he managed to outbox world champion Galib Jafarov (KAZ) in the same building that will hold the Olympic tournament - "Perestrieri hall".
Medal contenders: Galib Jafarov (KAZ), Muideen Ganiyu (NGR)
The current World champion is always a strong bet. In the case of Jafarov it applies as well. He beat Tajbert in the battle for gold in Bangkok by 43:35. The fight was even in the first two rounds, but then Javarovs experience ruled the remainder of the fight.
Ganiyu is another African, who is considered as a future star. Competitors from the hottest continent don't have the same financial resources as their colleagues from Europe, Asia, Africa and Australia. For this reason they rarely get the occasion to show themselves to the world. The Olympics gives them the chance to do so and Ganiyu is the person, who has talent to show and the qualities to be among the best.
Watch out: Konstantin Kupatadze (GEO)
Georgian, Kupatadze, is the fighter who threw out of the Athens tournament current Olympic bantamweight runner up - Raimkul Malakbekov (RUS). Kupatadze beat the Russian in Pula by only one point but issued a warning note to the favorites, 'be warned when you are up next with Double K!'
Favorites: Mario Kindelan (CUB)
Super Mario is entering his last competition at the age of 32. The Olympic and three times world champion has hundreds of fans all around the world. As professional wrestling has The Rock and Hulk Hogan, amateur boxing has a real entertainer in Kindelan. The Cuban is unbeaten for such a long time in the biggest competitions and will aim to finish in style his perfect career.
Medal contenders: Amir Khan (ENG), Dimitar Shtilianov (BUL) and Aydun Selchuk (TUR)
A strong European field will try to depose Kindelan. For young British sensation Amir Khan, Super Mario was only the second person in the men's division to defeat him. At just 17-years old Pakistani born Khan has won everything that can be won in cadet and junior divisions since the middle of last year. He has a promising future but is it possible that his star will shine in Athens? Another star, but ten years older, Dimitar Shtilianov has the much needed experience. The two times Euro champ is Bulgarias biggest hope and whatever the outcome he has anounced that the Athens Games will be his last tournament and after the event he will continue as a coach. Selchuk is another Balkan Peninsula representative who hunts for Olympic glory. Capable of beating everyone in Europe he must show confidence in Athens to came back with at least a medal.
Watch out: Gyula Kate (HUN)
The Hungarian is another member of the golden team from the junior championships in Budapest. He's always put amongst the favorites in European tournaments. Very strong and talented Kate is part of a new Hungarian boxing generation that includes rising stars the Bedak brothers.
Favorites: Alexander Maletin (RUS)
The only thing that is missing in Maleti's career is Olympic gold. Last year he climbed to the Super-lightweight division and the switch was a particular success as he lost in the previous world championships final to Willy Blain (FRA) by 13:32. 14 months later the Russian is in top shape, which was demonstrated in the Pula championships.
Medal contenders: Willy Blain (FRA), Yudel Johnson (CUB), Patric Lopez (VEN)
Blain has become a well known fighter in the last five-six years. Last year, he lived the biggest moment in his life, when he grabbed the world title. After Bangkok his form started to drop as was shown clearly in some national team duels and then in again in the European championships, when he lost to Ukrainian debutant Igor Pashchuk. The 64 kg weight limit will be always very special for spectators remembering Cuban Diogenes Luna in Sydney. With his tremendous style he became world champ in Belfast (stopping Bulgarian Shtilianov in the final). Luna was replaced by Yudel Johnson in the Cuban team and the newcomer showed that he quickly learnt a winning recipe during his journey to Europe in May and June. It's strange to see a Venezuelan boxer among the best, but Patric Lopez is the talent that everyone in South America speaks about. He is the current Pan American champion and be sure he will be one of the rulers of super-lightweight division.
Watch out: Boris Georgiev (BUL) and Igor Paschuk (UKR)
Talent is the word that describes Georgiev most precisely. Just 18 years old he took the silver medal in Euro 2000, losing in a very close fight to Ramazan Palyani. The Bulgarian is waiting patiently for his moment and on his day is capable of beating everyone and losing to anyone! Igor Paschuk is one of the youngest Ukrainian hopes. Until ECH his best achievement was third place in the European junior championships in Sarajevo'01 but after shocking Willy Blain his name was on the lips of every boxing specialists and he followed up his success in Pula, defeating another top fighter - Boris Georgiev. I leave the preview for Paschuk, but he didn't match weight in so Ukrainian is out of the tournament!
Favorites: Oleg Saitov (RUS) and Lorenzo Aragon (CUB)
The first thing that passed through my mind when reviewing the welterweights is to make one very short prayer to the Greek god of draws. My hope is that both fighters will get the chance to compete through different channels. It will be a real shame if bad luck robs the fans of seeing a final between two times Olympic champ Oleg Saitov and two times world champ Lorenzo Aragon. The Russian is hunting for a place in history alongside Laszlo Papp, Felix Savon and Teofilio Stevenson, and Aragon is hunting for the only peak that he has yet to conquer!
Medal contenders: Andre Berto (HAI) and Ruslan Khairov (AZE)
Haiti sends a fighter to the Olympic Games for the first time. But Berto is more than just another simple competitor. He was the only member of the USA team, to come back with a medal from the last world championships in Bangkok. Unfortunately he was eliminated, but not in the ring, from the USA Olympic trials. Khairov is one of the veterans here. His luck is always linked with the name of Oleg Saitov the Russian who he has lost to, but always in very close fights.Once again here smells the possibility of revenge.
Watch out: Bulent Ulusoy (TUR)
Former European champion Ulusoy suffered some difficulties qualifying for the Games. He did so in Plovdiv, but was far away from his best days. A year ago in Bangkok he almost eliminated Lorenzo Aragon the mighty Cuban who managed to take the win with only one point (18:17). Bulent will need to find the same form if he is to succeed in Athens.
Favorites: Gennadi Golovkin (KAZ), Gaidarbek Gaidarbekov (RUS), Andre Dirrell (USA)
If there is a tough division to be contested in the Athens Games, the Middleweight category wins without doubt. Three fighters have equal chances to be crowned as Olympic champions. The first of them, Gennadi Golovkin is the current world champion and experts predict a great future for him. Gaidarbekov became European in Pula and was announced as the best fighter of the championships. The Russian has great Olympic experience, reaching the final in Sydneyl, where he lost to Jorge Gutieres (CUB). Dirrell is considered the best USA hope. He won the Pre-Olympic test event in Athens, in which Golovkin and Cuban Yordanis Despaigne also participated.
Medal contenders: Oleg Mashkin (UKR)
I will mention only the Ukrainian, Oleg Mashkin here because the three favorites will almost certainly contest the medal positions.. As a former European champ (Perm 2002) he will always be counted among the best in the world. Last year he reached the final in Bangkok, but his fight with Golovkin was stopped in the second round in favour of Kazakhstan due to injury.
Watch out: Marian Simion (ROM)
Veteran Simion is the last reminder of the great Romanian generation, featuring his brother Dorel, Lucian Bute, Crinu Raicu, Leonard Doroftei and Francisc Vastag (who is now head coach of the national team). Former world champion and runner up at Sydney he still has something left and whilst an outsider may feature if the old spirit is rekindled.
Favorites: Evgeny Makarenko (RUS)
With only one loss in national and international competitions in the last four years the captain of the Russian team is looking for gold. He was in Sydney, but only as sparring partner to his country mate Alex Lebziak. He has learned how to win and it's time for him to teach those lessons to other fighters in the division!
Medal contenders: Utkirbek Haydarov (UZB), Helias Pavlidis (GRE), Ali Ismailov (AZE)
Haydarov moves up a category from middleweight to light-heavyweight. As a former world champion he has enough experience to reach the higher level. The best Greek fighter Pavlidis shone in the Pre-Olympic test in Athens, when he overcame three strong Olympians. During the games proper he will get bigger support from the crowd, which can be decisive not only for the boxer mood, but also on the judges' reactions. Ismailov is one of the toughest veterans in the entire Olympic field with maybe the strongest punch in the division. I should mention that the previous Olympic champ at the 81 kg weight limit possessed a moustache. Ali also has such!
Watch out: Yildirim Tarhan (TUR)
The Turk survived a very heavy knockdown during the "Strandja cup" qualifier in Plovdiv from Olympic Games silver medalist Rudolf Karj (CZE) to win the quota. Tarhan is very quick, well prepared and tactically proficient. On good days he will provide a stern test show for everyone even Makarenko.
Favorites: Odlanier Solis (CUB)
Another two times world champion, who is missing an Olympic title. The inheritor of Felix Savons mantle Solis receives great respect from his opponents. The pressure on him is huge, as he attempts to fill the place left by the great Cuban. Last year in Bangkok he was nearly surprised by young Russian Alexander Alexeev, but succeeded to take the gold with an 18:15 victory.
Medal contenders: Alexander Alexeev (RUS), Viktor Zuev (BLR), Vugar Alakparov (AZE)
Alexeev got the place of Sydney Games runner up Sultanahmed Ibrahimov in Nikoay Khromov's team. The Russian bogatir, who wasn't able to defeat Felix Savon four years ago, will shake fingers for his country mate. Alexander made the first step by winning the Euro title in Pula. Zuev is one of the most attractive fighters from the Old continent. A former European cadet and junior champ he reached the finals in Pula after a very close first round and tied score in a battle with Aleexev. The Russian managed to place a counter strike bomb and KO-ed the Belarusian. Alakparov won the qualification tournament in Warsaw beating in the final Italian Daniel Betti (22:20). According to the Azerbaijani coaching team, along with Agasi Mamedov and Ali Ismailov, he's the other big medal hope. He got bronze in Sydney, now it's time for something brighter.
Watch out: Emmanuel Izonritei (NGR)
The African champion is very higly rated in his country. Boxing experts say that he can't find sparring partners, so he is training with elephants! Of course it can't be true, cos it's a fact that elephants aren't so calm when you beat the hell out of them as is the case with some fighters. On another note, Nigeria has a record of great achievement in the Olympic Games heavy divisions, and we may expect some surprises from Izonrieti.
Favorites: Alexander Povetkin (RUS)
Povetkin is another unbeaten fighter in international competition for the last 36 months. He is very convincing in the ring, using his power punches and rarely moves back. The Russian is a real pleasure to watch. With two European diamonds and one world, he's waiting for the Olympic jewel to decorate his championships crown.
Medal Contenders: Roberto Cammarelle (ITA), Rustam Saidov (UZB), Sebastian Kober (GER)
Cammarelle is the most dangerous opponent of Povetkin. The Italian has lost four times to the Russian, but two of them - finals of Euro 2002 and 2004, were very close. Roberto missed last year worlds due to a back injury, but came back in Pula, where lack of experience or stamina in the fourth round deprived him of the win. Saidov is a bronze medalist from Sydney. He lost to Povetkin in the semis of WCH 2003, but now he's in great form. The Uzbek fighter scored wins over 80 % of the other contenders in the Olympic ring. Kober is the clear example of the renowned German boxing school. Always among the first four rated fighters in the world and Europe, but missing the final step. German persistence is well known and why not Athens to go the whole way to a medals position?
Watch out: Victor Bisbal (PUR)
The Puerto Rican is the person who beat highly regarded American hope and PanAm champion Jason Estrada in the preliminary duels before the Games. Bisbal qualified somewhat uncomfortably for the Olympic tournament with a 23:19 victory over George Garcia (MEX) in the last American decisive event in Rio de Janeiro (BRA). He has made a lot of improvement and with some luck may pick up a medal..
August 13, 2004