Olympic super-heavyweight success for Team GB
- Credit: PA
For the 1984 Summer Olympic Games in Los Angeles, the super-heavyweight category was introduced for boxers weighing in excess of 91kgs (200 pounds).
There have been nine champions coming from eight different nations and Team GB has done very well with two champions in Audley Harrison and Anthony Joshua.
Joe Joyce came so close with a silver medal in 2016 and we also have acquired two bronze medals. Can we also claim some part of east London-born Lennox Lewis, who won for Canada in Seoul in 1988?
A total of 11 boxers from 11 nations boxed for the first Olympic super-heavyweight crown and the honour of being the first champion fell to Tyrell Biggs (USA).
Although he triumphed 4-1 over Italy’s top quality Francesco Damiani, many in the largely home American crowd booed the verdict.
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Damiani had forced much of the contest and had consistently been the aggressor, but the judges largely went against him. In the World Championships in 1982, Biggs had won the gold medal squeezing home in another close and debatable verdict over Damiani.
On his way to Olympic gold, Biggs had actually unanimously outpointed a young Lewis 5-0 at the quarter-final stage but Lewis did gain revenge in the paid ranks when stopping Biggs and flooring him three times in the third round of a scheduled 10-rounder in Atlanta, Georgia in November 1991.
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The Italian finally got his “revenge” in the paid ranks in October 1988, stopping Biggs in the fifth round of a scheduled 10-rounder in Italy.
Also at the 1984 Games, Bobby Wells (GB) received a bronze medal having been stopped in the third round of his semi-final contest with Damiani.
His father, Billy Wells boxed at heavyweight in the Mexico City Games of 1968, being stopped in the second round of his opening series bout by Lithuanian Jonas Cepulis, who was boxing for the then USSR.
Cepulis won silver after being stopped in the second round of the Olympic final by none other than one George Foreman (USA).
Moving onto Seoul in 1988 and Lewis, boxing again under the flag of Canada having been born in east London and moved to learn the amateur boxing trade, stopped Riddick Bowe (USA) early in the second round of their final.
In many ways it was a rather strange contest. The first round went to Bowe, although he was deducted one point almost at the end by a rather fussy East German referee who had warned him three times for illegal head work in a round marred by many head clashes.
Lewis moved up a gear in the second round, forcing Biggs to take two standing counts from fierce head shots, which prompted the referee to stop the bout after the second count although a definitely shaken Biggs appeared to many to be able to still continue.
Lewis and Bowe were not destined to meet as professionals. Bowe vacating his WBC title in 1992 instead of defending it against his number one contender, Lewis. One wonders if the
memories of Bowe’s loss to Lewis in Seoul 1988 might have still been around in his head?
A total of 17 boxers from 17 nations competed at these Games, although in this weight category, Team GB did not have a representative.
In Barcelona in 1992. Cuba won its first Olympic gold medal at super-heavyweight through the immensely talented Robert Balado, who also won the coveted Val Barker Trophy.
In the final Balado outscored Nigeria’s Richard Igbineghu 13-2 and the Cuban was a phenomenal champion, three-time gold medallist at World Championships; indeed he won 10 gold medals in total in his 10 top international events.
Tragically he died aged 25 on July 2, 1994, in a car accident in Havana and who knows what he might have gone on to achieve in the amateur ring. He remains the only Olympic super-heavyweight champion to win the Val Barker prize, he really was outstanding and was taken far too soon.
In 1996, in Atlanta, we had the Ukraine’s Wladimir Klitschko as the Olympic champion. The giant Klitschko came up against Tongan Paea Wolfgramm in the final and won 7-3 in a low scoring final. The Tongan boxer thus became the first athlete from his country to secure an Olympic medal.
Klitschko did not otherwise have that great an amateur pedigree. He won silver at super-heavyweight in the European Championships, two other gold medals were claimed at heavyweight in the Junior European Championships and the Military World Championships and a silver also at heavyweight in the Junior World Championships.
He and Wolfgramm did meet again in the professional ranks and there was no happy ending once more for the Tongan as he was stopped in a mere 90 seconds by Klitschko when the vacant WBC international heavyweight title was up for grabs.
In Sydney in 2000, it was Harrison’s time and GB’s first ever Olympic super-heavyweight champion.
Perhaps the competition suffered a little in that the last two world champions, Sinan Sam (Turkey) and Georgia’s Georgi Kandelaki, had turned professional. Nevertheless there was still a very strong field available, with 16 boxers from 16 nations.
Repton’s Harrison boxed four times for his gold medal triumph, stopping Russia’s Alexei Lezin and outpointing Ukraine’s Aleksey Masikin (19-9); Italy’s Paolo Vidoz (32-16) and in the Olympic final Kazakhstan’s Murktarkhan Dildabekov (30-16).
At the 2004 Games in Athens – the traditional birthplace of the Modern Olympic Games – an Olympic champion was crowned without having to throw a punch in the final.
Russia’s Alexander Povetkin won with a walkover after his opponent from Egypt, Mohamed Aly, failed the doctor and was unable to box having further aggravated a right shoulder injury in training that he had sustained earlier in the competition.
It was a disappointing end to Aly’s Games, especially as he had outscored Cuba’s hot title prospect Michel Lopez Nunez (18-16) on his way to his “would-be final”.
He remains the only Egyptian boxer to win a silver medal in the Olympic ring and it is so sad not to know whether Aly might have given Povetkin all the trouble he could handle or not? Povetkin was a top quality operator and very experienced, but the Egyptian had a good tournament coping with his shoulder injury and might just have been capable of one last surprise had he had the opportunity to spring one.
A total of 16 boxers from 16 countries took part in the Games in this weight category, with no representation from GB.
In 2008 in Beijing the gold went to big punching Italian southpaw Roberto Cammarelle, who had won a bronze medal in 2004 having been outpointed in his semi-final by eventual gold medallist Povetkin by 31-18.
In the final in Beijing, the Italian super star stopped China’s Zhang Zhilei in the fourth round. In his semi-final Cammarelle had stopped GB’s David Price from Liverpool in the second round.
Price took a standing count in the first session and was being hurt by head punches when the intervention from the referee came in round two. Nevertheless it was a good Games for Price who returned home with a bronze medal.
At the London 2012 Games, Team GB earned their second super-heavyweight gold medal through Finchley ABC’s Anthony Joshua and it proved to be a tough road all the way to the finals.
Joshua’s first opponent was Cuba’s Erislandy Savon and when has Cuba ever produced a poor super-heavyweight?
Erislandy, widely tipped as a medal prospect, was the nephew of arguably Cuba and the world’s greatest ever boxer, Felix Savon, and had won silver at the 2015 Worlds in Doha.
Joshua squeezed home 17-16 but the Cubans were livid at the verdict and many in the audience thought, at best, he was very unlucky not getting the decision.
It didn’t get any easier for Joshua as next up was the silver medalist from Beijing, China’s Zhang Zhilei.
Joshua won 15-11, flooring the Chinese boxer in the second round to help cement his victory and Kazakhstan’s clever Ivan Dychko, always among the medals at international level, was eclipsed 13-11 in a tight semi-final.
Only Italy’s Cammarrelle stood in Joshua’s way for the gold medal and the reigning Olympic champion had won several other gold medals at top international level.
It was a real “nip and tuck” final ending with each boxer with 18 points, but Joshua became Olympic champion via countback, 56-53.
The Italians were furious and some neutrals too thought him unlucky, but Joshua saw it through. It is never easy to win an Olympic medal, let alone gold, but he triumphed to help thrill the nation in London 2012.
Once again 16 boxers from 16 countries contested the medals.
The 2016 Rio Olympics almost saw Team GB secure another gold medal via Earlsfield’s Joe Joyce but a contentious decision went in favour this time of Frenchman Tony Yoka (2-1), so Joyce had to accept silver this time. The judges’ scores were 30-27 and 29-28 for Yoka and 29-28 for Joyce.
Joyce was in great form in his three contests leading up to his bout with Yoka as Cape Verde’s Davilson dos Santos Morais was halted at the end of the opening round, a unanimous points success (3-0) over Uzbekistan’s Bakhodir Jalolov followed and then a familiar face in Ivan Dychko (Kazakhstan) was also beaten on points (3-0).
Each finalist had a triumph previously over the other, but the Frenchman won gold on this occasion, a verdict which was not well received. When have we heard this before at the Olympics?
A total of 17 boxers from 17 nations took part and as we look forward to what will now be Tokyo 2021, let us hope that Team GB will again be among the Olympic super-heavyweight medals.