London's Olympics have been a knockout, but there's no doubt who will be Britain's biggest hit of the Games. If Anthony Joshua, one of the two British boxers in this afternoon's finals, wins the super-heavyweight title, he will be within striking distance of a gold mine.
Untold riches await the 22-year-old Londoner if he dispatches the reigning Olympic champion, Roberto Cammarelle, as adroitly as he did in the quarter-finals of last year's World Championships. Promoters will be knocking on his Finchley door as well as that down in Wales of Fred Evans, at 21 the youngest member of Britain's most successful Olympic boxing squad, should the welterweight win his final against Kazakhstan's No 2 seed, Serik Sapiyev. But like the weights, Evans's cheques would be somewhat smaller.
Only two Britons, Audley Harrison (Sydney 2000) and Lennox Lewis (Seoul 1988) have won the super-heavyweight crown – though Lewis was representing Canada at the time. Both rate Joshua highly, as does David Price, who took the bronze medal in Beijing when he was stopped in the semi-finals by the opponent Joshua faces today, the 32-year-old Italian carabiniere.
Price, now the British profes-sional champion, says: "He's young, good-looking and he can hit. I think he can win the gold." If he does, Joshua can expect at least a 20-fold improvement on the offer of £50,000 he received to turn pro a year ago. I believe he definitely will, but he declines to commit himself, saying: "Maybe I'll go for the world amateur championship again. I didn't take up the sport to earn money, I did it to win medals."
He has a great chance of repeating his victory over Cam-marelle, who is more ponderous than when they last fought but can be wily, as he showed in the semi-finals when edging the Azerbaijani Magomedrasul Medzhisov, the top seed, who got a suspiciously hometown decision over Joshua in the World Championships final.
Joshua is the British-born son of Nigerian parents who, as a kid, was a talented footballer, and could run 11 seconds for the 100 metres when he was 15. His fleet-footedness helps make him special, a more nimble, less robotic version of Frank Bruno.
In boxing terms he is still a baby, but at 6ft 6in and nearly 17st he has vital commodities for greatness – a good chin and a decent punch.
However he could have thrown it all away early last year when he was arrested for a drugs offence and suspended from the British squad. He received a 12-month community order and 100 hours' unpaid work. "That arrest changed a lot," he said. "It forced me to grow up and respect my responsibilities."
His bout will be the final sporting event of the Olympics. Before then Evans, the European champion but the surprise package of the team, may well have secured gold himself. Having narrowly outscored the Ukrainian world No 1 in the semi-finals, he has the confidence and the clout to clinch the crown.
The boxing tournament has been among the most impressive of the Games events, due in no small measure to Terry Edwards, the GB coach in Beijing who is in charge of the sports technical operation here, after turning down an approach to coach the US men. In view of their abysmal performance, medal-less for the first time in their history, they clearly could have done with him.
Rob McCracken, the coach who succeeded him, is barred from the corner under AIBA rules because of his association with professional boxers, including Carl Froch. Yet the international governing body are professionalising the only sport in the Olympics which has the prefix "amateur". From the next Games in Rio, headguards and probably vests will be discarded and a pro-style 10-point scoring system introduced.
Prize money is available on the World Series circuit but it will be chicken feed compared with the millions that await Joshua if he becomes boxing's new golden boy today. But Big Josh needs to splosh to get the dosh.
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- Audley Harrison
- Lennox Lewis
- Olympic Stadium