Khan adds precious mettle to golden reputation

Something shone out beyond the spotlit ring of the Peristeri Olympic Boxing Hall here yesterday, piercing the semi-darkness of the arena. It was a brilliant talent. And it belonged to a 17-year-old taking his first big step towards what might, what could, what should be a career that will establish him as one of this sport's celebrated protagonists.

Amir Khan is too young to contest the Amateur Boxing Association Championships, but he is old enough to be Britain's only boxer at these Games and good enough to have persuaded many experienced observers of the game that he has "got it".

How far "it" will take him depends upon many things, but all the evidence so far is that this level-headed, personable young man from a warm and supportive family in Bolton can aspire realistically to ambitions which include Olympic gold medals and world championship titles.

To achieve the first of those targets at these Games is a mighty task, particularly as Khan's first-round win over local boxer Marios Kaperonis yesterday has earned him a meeting with Bulgaria's European champion Dimitar Stilianov in a 60kg lightweight category that also includes the man many regard as the best amateur boxer in the world, Cuba's defending champion Mario Cesar Kindelan.

But neither Khan, nor the man who has coached him at the Bury Club since he was an 11-year-old, Mick Jelley, were ruling it out after an Olympic debut that was witnessed approvingly by, among others, the Minister for Culture and Sport, Tessa Jowell, the man charged with guiding London's bid for the 2012 Olympics, Seb Coe, and Princess Anne.

Asked afterwards if it seemed harsh for Khan to be already facing the European No-1 for a place in the quarter-finals, Jelley responded: "That's why you are here. But I think he's capable of winning it."

Jelley, a lean figure with a grey moustache and - especially for the occasion, one assumes - a natty Union Jack waistcoat, has had to give over his usual task to the team coach Terry Edwards for the Games, which meant finding himself as a frustrated front-row observer while his young charge began diffidently.

Khan, who arrived here with the title of world junior champion, may be precociously gifted, but by his own admission yesterday he was nervous. He is only a teenager. And these are the Olympics.

As Jelly strove vainly to attract his attention from the sidelines - "His timing were out and he were missing a few times. 'Try to get in distance. Punch a bit lower,' I wanted to say to him" - the young man in blue swiftly got the measure of his latest challenge.

Despite the excitable exhortations of the home crowd, Khan - cheered on by a band of Union Jack-waving supporters which included his father, Shajaad, a mechanic who also runs a scrapyard and a mini-cab business - soon got the measure of his rash opponent.

After narrowly shading the first round, the boxer who chose to compete for Britain rather than the country of his father's origin, Pakistan, began to demonstrate why he has caused such a stir in the sport.

With his rangy style and long arms and legs, he looks more like a basketball player than a boxer. Until he moves, that is. Then he shows a fluency and accuracy that has already, somewhat ludicrously, drawn comparisons with Muhammad Ali from some within the sport.

"After my first round I felt a lot more relaxed and comfortable," he said to a thicket of dictaphones afterwards. "I was catching him with some good shots and I kept catching him. I knew he'd tire a bit because he's a local man in front of his home crowd.

"Once I got into my stride I got my punch going. I just kept biding my time and picking my shots. The first fight is always the hardest because I haven't been in the ring for a while. After this I'll go into the next fight a bit more relaxed and confident."

There were exhalations of relief all round as Khan came through his inaugural Olympic test.

While his father looked on from ringside, Khan's mother, Falak, and his 13-year-old younger brother, Haroon, were watching a live television transmission at the family home in Bolton along with a group of friends and relatives which included his cousin, the Lancashire and England cricketer Sajid Mahmood.

It was a measure of Khan's swiftly growing reputation that the family celebrations were also witnessed by the cameras of Granada TV. People watching people watching people.

"They were straight on the phone to me after he won," Shahaad said. "It was as noisy there as it was here."

Jelley's reaction was considerably more measured. "It's like you plant a seed, and it starts to grow," he said. "It blossoms, and it might stay nice for three weeks and then it dies. That's the same as a young boxer. Every contest Amir has, he gets a little bit better.

"I've run my club for 40 years, and all the lads there get treated the same, and shouted at the same. Amir's the only lad that I've ever told that he can be world champion. When he's 27 years old he'll be world champion. I might be wrong. But when I say something it generally comes to pass."

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

Heavy weather

What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

World Bodypainting Festival 2015

Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

Don't call us nerds

Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high
How to find gold: The Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge

How to find gold

Steve Boggan finds himself in the Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge
Singing accents: From Herman's Hermits and David Bowie to Alesha Dixon

Not born in the USA

Lay off Alesha Dixon: songs sound better in US accents, even our national anthem
10 best balsamic vinegars

10 best balsamic vinegars

Drizzle it over salad, enjoy it with ciabatta, marinate vegetables, or use it to add depth to a sauce - this versatile staple is a cook's best friend
Wimbledon 2015: Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

Serena dispatched her elder sister 6-4, 6-3 in eight minutes more than an hour
Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

Greece referendum

Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

7/7 bombings anniversary

Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

Versace haute couture review

Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

No hope and no jobs in Gaza

So the young risk their lives and run for it
Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

Fashion apps

Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy