Middleweight James DeGale breezed into the boxing semi-finals tonight to become the third Briton to be guaranteed a bronze medal. But he knows there is a storm lying ahead.
For after a scintillating display of hit-hop boxing in his 8-3 points defeat of hard man Bakhtiyar Artayev of Kazakhstan, the 2004 Olympic welterweight champion, now faces his bete noire, Irishman Darren Sutherland who overwhelmed Venezuelan Alfonso Blanco 11-1. They have fought five times and Sutherland leads 4-1.
But the 22-year-old Londoner is unfazed at the prospect. “On my form here I can beat anyone," he said. “We’ve had some close fights and this time I’ll use my brain. I’ve got too many skills for him. If I have to hit and run, that’s what I’ll do. Hit, hit, hop, hit, run. That’s what amateur boxing’s about. I don’t care if people back home think its boring.”
However his performance against the man who had earlier removed the seemingly unbeatable Russian world champion, was certainly not dull. One of the best fight nights of his life DeGale, aka “Chunky”, dominated from the first scoring punch, a long left hook, giving a controlled display of back-foot counterpunching and frustrating Artayev’s efforts to close in on him. “Its about tactics and me and Terry (coach Terry Edwards) got them off perfect. A bronze medal man, I’m in the history books!”
The tall and rangy DeGale whose speciality is the now rarely seen underarm bolo, is a southpaw switch-hitter and the most telegenic of the squad. His nickname lingers from his schooldays. "When I was ten I weighed about 45kg. I was chubby and fat and just went in there and had a tear-up. The name has stayed with me but luckily the weight hasn't, thanks to a lot of hard training." He won a national schoolboy title at light-heavyweight, weighing a stone more than he is now. DeGale, who believes his name has French origins (his British- born father has Grenadan ancestry and his mother is English) has had a tendency to fade on the big occasion. But not tonight.
Britain and Ireland are now assured of three bronze medals apiece and DeGale joins super-heavyweight David Price and light-heavy Tony Jeffries in tomorrow's semis. Three medals is both relief and redemption for Edwards after his team’s chequered tournament, and there are genuine hopes that perhaps two can be translated into gold, which would bring Britain ‘s greatest Olympic ring success in over half a century.