DeGale breezes through to lift trio with brio
Sunday 17 August 2008
After a week of hit, miss and mayhem at the Workers' Gymnasium, Britain's fighting men at least know the score, which apparently is more than the ringside judges do.
It adds up to three in the quarter-finals, one punch away from a medal. So the Magnificent Seven, who started out as the Great Eight before Frankie Gavin's weight dramas, are reduced to the trio with brio – beanpole super-heavyweight David Price, burger-van man light-heavyweight Tony Jeffries and occasional male model James DeGale, the middleweight who yesterday became the first Briton here to win his second Olympic bout.
DeGale's 11-5 points victory over Shawn Estrada of the US followed the not-unexpected departure of the teenage flyweight Khalid Yafai, who after waiting a week to make his Olym-pic debut had the misfortune to encounter one of the best Cubans, the slick Andris Hernandez.
Yafai was the fourth Briton to go out, after the bantamweight Joe Murray and the two Saunders, Billy Joe and Bradley, and Britain's much-vaunted hopes of a major bullion raid have had to take a swift recalculation. But the coach, Terry Edwards, says: "My target has always been two medals. Hopefully we can now achieve at least that. It's disappointing that we've lost a few but we've had a very stiff draw."
DeGale, a 22-year-old Londoner, is a tall and rangy southpaw switch-hitter, a style he used effectively against the moderate Mexican-American. As in his first bout he finished strongly after taking two rounds to register the first punch. He was not the first to describe the scoring as "crazy". He now meets an opponent to whom he has previously lost but who he also beat and floored earlier this year, the 2004 Olympic welterweight champion Bakhityar Artayayev of Kazakhstan, who may have done him a favour by removing Russia's double world championMatvey Korobov, who had been unbeaten for five years.
"Please God I can do it," says DeGale, who now has three days to chill out in the Olympic Village and avoid distractions, as he puts it, "like all that great food and the Brazilian women".
Losing to Hernandez, the Pan American and world silver medallist, was no surprise and no disgrace for Birmingham's Yafai. He had to do all the chasing as the counter-punching Hernandez pulled away in the second round. Yafai, 19, who, like Naseem Hamed, is from Yemeni stock, is a world junior championand he was really in Beijing as a springboard towards higher ambitions in London in 2012.
The 30-year-old Cuban knew how to work the vexing scoring system by picking his punches at long range, and Yafai struggled to find a way through his stabbing southpaw lead. Hernandez has been around the rings for a long time – apart from two years when, back in 1999, he was banned for taking steroids, one of the few Cubans in any sport to fail a drugs test.
It was the second time they had fought, and the consolation for the kid they call "Kool" is that this time the points margin was narrower. "Those 11 years he had on me in experience told," he said. "I ain't going to moan, I got beat fair and square, but the scoring is a lot different out here. Some of my body shots didn't seem to register. He's hard and clever, but the only time he seemed to want to trade was after the bell."
As Yafai said, he came to Beijing to learn, and yesterday he took lessons from a master. But he has not been alone in quicklyrealising that for GB, this isn't quite an Olympic ring of roses.
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