James Lawton: DeGale rages against blows delivered behind British backs
Saturday 23 August 2008
It is the best collection of medals in more than in 52 years, two bronze and a possible gold for the middleweight James DeGale today, but the British boxing team now have the look and the demeanour of the besieged.
Almost as bad as the dwindling gold rush which came when the super-heavyweight David Price was thoroughly dismantled by Italy's world champion, Roberto Cammarelle, and the Irish light-heavyweight Kenny Egan easily handled Tony Jeffries, was the terrible sense that not only had they been endangered at the front, they had also been betrayed at the back.
The release of the news earlier this week that another member of the team, the light welterweight Billy Joe Saunders, had arrived home in Hertfordshire to the news that he had been suspended by the Amateur Boxing Association, was plainly still a matter of anger among the three men who had stayed to fight for the glory, and now had been cut down to one. DeGale, a brilliant survivor with a perfectly crafted victory over the Irishman Darren Sutherland, put his indignation into words most graphically, declaring: "It's a load of shit at a a time like this."
Jeffries was less expressive but just as pointed after going down 10-3 to Egan. "Whoever leaked this news at this time should be sacked," he said.
The word within amateur boxing is clear enough. Backroom politics at the ABA are putting the 65-year-old coach Terry Edwards, who has now guided three fighters – Audley Harrison, Amir Khan and DeGale – to gold medal rounds in successive Olympics, under immense pressure. The former taxi driver is not likely to go quietly.
His contempt for his enemies was barely concealed after Price went down with almost sickening formality to Cammarelle.
"The team have one boxer in the final and have also gained two bronze medals, which is the best result since 1956. Even so, there are people in armchairs trying to tell me my job. There is tremendous spirit and we will go forward to 2012 with the same fight that has been shown here. The team have done themselves proud but they must have the support of everyone throughout the sport – that would be nice."
For the moment, at least, DeGale seems least in need of a helping hand. He was considered one of the less likely shots at the glory when the team arrived here but increasingly he has shown the poise of a man capable of seizing an opportunity.
His opponent today is the Cuban Emilio Correa Bayeaux, who has beaten him twice, but DeGale believes he has arrived at a crucial point in his career at exactly the right time. "My performances have shown a steady improvement and what I think I proved today is that I have got on top of the tactics I need to win here. My tactics are in great shape – and so is my head."
DeGale's self-belief was certainly not hindered by the ease with which he outpointed an Irishman who held a 4-1 advantage in victories before yesterday's collision. Sutherland took the fight to DeGale but his crowding tactics were treated by DeGale as an open invitation to score freely on the counter-attack. He did it so well that he eased into the final, 10-3.
Neither Price nor Jeffries could begin to match that kind of authority.
Price, who had, like DeGale, been growing in conviction throughout the tournament, admitted his opponent had out-thought and outpunched him.
"My tactics were all wrong tonight," said the lean, towering and extremely disconsolate man from Merseyside. "I feel as if all the hard work has gone down the pan with that performance. I thought he would box off the back foot but instead he came at me from the off.
"No one can take the bronze medal off me," Price said after his fight had been stopped in the second round. "What will I do now? I'll go on to London 2012 but after tonight's performance I'll probably do synchronised swimming."
That bleak Liverpool humour was a sad footnote to a personal campaign which had started with such promise, but it did strike the mood of a camp plainly suffering from a sense that they are the lone occupants of their particular foxhole.
The British were not alone in their angst, however. While the International Boxing Association was being drawn into still more controversy over Olympic judging – this time with a claim, by its own deputy technical delegate from Romania, that the results of random computer selection of judges were being adjusted later – the Irish light flyweight Paddy Barnes was incandescent after his 15-0 defeat by China's Zou Shining. Barnes plainly landed punches on Shining but none of them was rewarded. He said: "The way things are out here the drug testing should be on the judges, not the fighters."
On a hard and troubling day, DeGale at least emerged with some strong self-belief. "I really feel I can beat anyone I face right now," he declared.
Tactfully, he did not stress that this was only when his opponent fought from the front.
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