Even tough guys cry. Luke Campbell joined female flyweight Nicola Adams as an Olympic champion. The 24-year-old from Hull fought the contest of his life to hold off swarming Irishman John Joe Nevin last night and claim Britain's first bantamweight gold in more than a century.
In what has been the most successful Olympics for British boxers since Melbourne in 1956, Campbell scored frequently and decisively against an opponent he knows well but whose performances in this tournament have been sharp and exciting. In front from the start, Campbell had a lead of 5-3 after the first round, showing a clarity of punching that was to improve as the bout progressed, notably with the smart use of a left hook and his southpaw jab.
A storming second round saw Nevin come out more aggressively, catching Campbell with a neat right cross, but the Briton remained unruffled, one point ahead at 9-8.
What clinched it for him was a cracking right in the third which caught the Irishman flush on the temple, sending him tottering down for the Brazilian referee to administer a statutory standing count of eight. Such knockdowns are worth only one point but the advantage was sufficient to give Campbell the confidence he needed to take the bout at 14-11.
It was a result that bought tears of joy to him and no complaint from 23-year-old Nevin, an Irish traveller who had hoped to emulate his female compatriot Katie Taylor by becoming an Olympic champion.
Among the first to congratulate Campbell was Amir Khan, silver medallist eight years ago, who told him: "That was a terrific performance." Indeed it was, equalling that of Britain's last gold medallist James DeGale in Beijing.
"I just don't know what to say. I'm so emotional," said Campbell. "It's something I've worked for all my life and I can't believe it's here."
Campbell is one of four British boxers to reach the finals and with the Adams gold secured, a bronze for middleweight Anthony Ogogo and the prospect at least silvers – if not better – today from welterweight Fred Evans and super-heavy Anthony Joshua – no wonder the cheers were echoing around the ExCel Arena where the atmosphere is akin to that of the Olympic stadium itself.
There is now every hope that Britain will surpass the previous best post-war collection of five medals in 1956, when they won two golds and three bronzes.
Campbell, himself the grandson of an Irish fighter, has rarely boxed better in a career that has brought a European and world silver medal. Such is his resolve that a couple of years ago he paid his own way to visit Freddie Roach's Wildcard gym in Los Angeles and stayed there for a week, picking up tips from stars such as Manny Pacquiao and Khan, who were training there.
"I just wanted to learn something different, to pick out things that other boxers did," said Campbell. "I knew Amir worked with Freddie and that gave me the idea of going there. Me and a friend from my boxing gym just turned up and I said: 'I'm Luke Campbell from Britain, can I stay and watch?' Freddie was great. He said: 'Yes, of course.' He didn't charge us anything and usually you have to pay quite a lot just to get in. In all it cost around £800 but it was well worth it."
The gold medal hanging around his neck last night was testimony to that and it now seems highly likely that Campbell will turn professional, where his cute counter-punching could bring even greater rewards.
British Olympic gold medallists
A Henry Thomas (bantamweight) Richard Gunn (featherweight): Oldest man to win Olympic boxing gold medal aged 37
Frederick Grace (lightweight): Won four ABA titles between 1909-20
Johnny Douglas (middleweight): Also England cricket captain
Albert Oldman (super-heavyweight): Served in Royal Horse Guards and later joined City of London Police
Harry Mallin (middleweight): British champion five years in a row before and after the Games. Won another gold in Paris in 1924 Olympics
Ronald Rawson (heavyweight): ABA champion in 1920 and '21.
Harry Mallin (see above).
Harry Mitchell (light-heavyweight):ABA champion four times, 1922-25
Terry Spinks (flyweight): ABA champion that year; featherweight champion in 1960 and '61
Dick McTaggart (lightweight): Also won bronze at Rome Olympics in 1960. Four-time ABA champion
Mexico City 1968
Chris Finnegan (middleweight): Won Commonwealth and European light-heavyweight titles in 1971
Audley Harrison (super-heavyweight): Turned pro in 2001. European heavyweight champion in 2009
James DeGale (middleweight): Won British and European super-middleweight titles in 2010 and '11
Nicola Adams (flyweight): First woman to win an Olympic boxing gold medal
Luke Campbell (bantamweight): Yorkshireman beat Irish rival in final