Bunce on Boxing: Amateurs get serious as London eliminators loom
It is easy to forget that a top pro has had a brilliant amateur career
The Olympic dream has moved closer for seven British boxers after the national coach, Robert McCracken, named his squad for the final qualification tournament.
It is also the end of the dream for about 120 hopefuls who have been rotated through the GB amateur programme in Sheffield, which is the envy of the boxing world, since the last Olympics.
"It's been a long and hard journey to get to this point," admitted McCracken, himself a veteran of the Commonwealth Games when an amateur boxer. "There have been so many fantastic boxers over the last few years and there are more on the horizon for the future." McCracken also admitted that he lost sleep before announcing the last names.
There is still a wait for a British gold medallist to win a world title as a professional, but being an Olympian and being part of the elite amateur system is still the best route to success in the paid business.
The brilliant Dave Charnley, who died recently, was a British amateur champion and boxed for England in the Fifties; in the Seventies John Conteh, John H Stracey and Charlie Magri were all sensational amateurs before winning proper world titles. Magri and Stracey went to the Olympics.
The British Olympic medal winners in the Seventies, Eighties and Nineties nearly all went on and had terrific success in the professional game. Richie Woodhall won bronze in Seoul and a world title as a pro, and now he works at McCracken's elbow each week in Sheffield.
"It is easy to forget that a top pro has had a brilliant amateur career because he is making money and taking part in big fights," Woodhall said. "The big names have that pedigree: [Lennox] Lewis, [Floyd] Mayweather and right now [Andre] Ward. We have it now with all of our top professionals in Britain."
So far five British boxers have secured their place at this summer's games; the other seven will travel to Turkey later this month to compete for the five remaining places. There is a chance that a final box-off could take place for the lightweight slot because a Scottish, Welsh and English boxer from the elite squad have been selected for the Turkey tournament. If one reaches the final and wins he will go to the Olympics, but if two lose in the semi-final there will be a box-off in Britain for the last place in the squad.
So far promoters in Britain, America and Germany have been quietly circling the Olympic qualifiers and hopefuls, measuring their advances carefully and hoping that they offer deals to the right men.
In Beijing seven British boxers went, winning three medals and since then six of the seven have turned professional. It will be the same this year.
Next Friday at York Hall the first auctions for Rio in 2016 open when the ABA finals take place. Hopefully, McCracken will be ringside taking notes, knowing that he's got less than four years to select his next Olympic team and break a few more hearts.
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