DeGale force gets Britain off to a flier

With a good-luck telephone message from his departed teammate Frankie Gavin ringing in his ears, middleweight James DeGale got Britain's boxers off to a winning start at the Workers' Indoor Arena in Beijing yesterday, coming from behind to beat Egypt's Mohamed Hikal. "This one was for Frankie," he said. "His loss to us is devastating and it meant everything for the team for me to win."

DeGale, the part-time male model from Harlesden, London, who is known as "Chunky" even though there is not an ounce of flab on him, won 13-4 after trailing in the first round, completelydominating the subsequentthree rounds.

"This hasn't been a great week for us, what with Frankie and then most of us getting tough draws, but I hope my win has given us all a lift," he said. "The boys will be buzzing now. In the last couple of rounds I got the flow and got the rhythm. There was an excellent atmosphere but I was so nervous going into the ring. This is the Olympic Games, after all, the greatest show on Earth."

DeGale, the Commonwealth Games bronze medallist, is among those who have consistently refused pro offers. Now he faces one of America's brightest hopes, Shawn Estrada, next weekend. Today the spotlight is on the Saunders duo, light-welter Bradley and welter Billy Joe, who fight Ghana's Samuel Neequaye and Turkey's Adem Kilicci respectively.

On Tuesday, bantamweight Joe Murray gets an opportunityto test the emerging strength of the Chinese against Yu Gu, while team captain David Price faces a tough opponent in his opening round of the super-heavyweight class on Wednesday in the Russian world champion, Islam Timurziev. Light-heavyweight Tony Jeffries, who has a better draw than most, has a bye and will not be in action until Thursday, when he meets Colombia's Eleider Alvarez.

Flyweight Khalid Yafai also has a bye until the second round on Saturday but he could hardlyhave a stiffer test, meeting one of the better Cubans, Andris Laffita Hernandez, who won gold in this year's Pan American Championships.

Says Britain's coach, Terry Edwards: "It's a particularly tough draw for David Price but he's in good form. It's good to meet the best in the field early on when you're fresh at the start of the competition, and I remain convinced that all our boxers will make an impact here."