Boxing: Britain fairs well during Olympic qualification

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Billy Joe Saunders is one of five English boxers who will fight for a place in Great Britain's Olympic team at a qualification tournament in Pescara, Italy, later today.

Saunders, 18, a welterweight from the Hoddesdon club, has won three times since Monday in what can only be described as a spectacular week for English boxing at a tournament where just 25 Olympic places are available to a line-up of 232 boxers from 42 countries in the 11 amateur weights.

The five boxers are Saunders, James DeGale, Stephen Smith, Danny Price and Khalid Yafi. An appeal on behalf of Liverpool's super-heavyweight David Price was rejected yesterday and Price will now travel to Athens in April for the final qualification tournament. Price had knocked out his first two opponents and dropped his quarter-final opponent, but the Azerbaijan boxer repeatedly held, but was not ruled, and that's why there was an appeal.

Dale Youth's DeGale has fought twice at middleweight, Rotunda's Smith has fought twice at featherweight, Birmingham City's Yafi has won twice at flyweight and Westway's heavyweight, Danny Price, has boxed three times so far. Last October, at the World Amateur Boxing Championships in Chicago, four British boxers qualified for Beijing when Birmingham's Frankie Gavin won the lightweight title, Manchester's Joe Murray won bronze at bantam, Bradley Saunders, from Stockton-on-Tees, won a bronze at light-welter and Newcastle's Tony Jeffries went through at light-heavyweight. In the previous 35 years, British boxers had managed a grand total of just three bronze medals and one silver before Chicago.

At the Atlanta Olympics, just two boxers qualified. It was the same in Sydney and, for Athens, only a Amir Khan, who qualified at the second attempt, represented Great Britain, but more than 30 other British boxers tried and failed to qualify.

To guarantee an Olympic place, all five need to win and reach tomorrow's final.

But there is an extra chance for Smith, Saunders and DeGale as there will be a third-place box-off between losing semi-finalists at their weight and the winner of that contest will also get an Olympic place.