By Jake Donovan
It was a day of firsts – and variety – in the first batch of Olympic boxing Gold medal matches Saturday evening in Beijing, China. All told, five Gold medals went to boxers representing five different nations.
Southpaw featherweight Vasyl Lomachenko has his fans going insane in the Ukraine. The fan-friendly banger all but cemented his chances of earning the Val Barker Trophy, awarded to the top boxer of the Summer Olympics every four years.
Lomachenko was the leading candidate even before the opening bell of his Gold medal match with France’s Khedafi Djelkhir, having defeated the featherweight Olympic version of Murderer’s Row just to get there. The run came in dominating fashion, to boot – Lomachenko outscored his four opponents 49-12 entering Saturday’s bout.
That margin grew to a 45 point differential, though the scoreboard wasn’t required on this occasion. Lomachenko ran up a 9-1 lead on the strength of three standing eight counts before the bout was mercifully halted at 1:51 of the opening round.
The win was redemption for a Ukraine boxing squad that saw a rough go of things in the 2008 Games. The nation sent seven boxers to compete, but only Lomachenko and Vyacheslav Glazkov made it beyond the Sweet 16.
Both would go on to medal and were favored to take home Gold for their respective divisions, only for an injury to force Glazkov to miss Friday’s super heavyweight semifinal match with China’s Zhang Zhelei.
Lomachenko made up the difference and in emphatic fashion. After a 14-7 opening round win over Russia’s Albert Selimov in a bout that could’ve easily been a Gold medal match, Lomachenko’s final four opponents managed just six points, with the stoppage over Djelkhir providing the proverbial cherry on top to give Ukraine its lone Gold medal.
For the moment, it’s one more than Team Cuba, who went 0-2 on the afternoon.
It’s been four years since Somjit Jongjohor had the misfortune of drawing eventual Gold medalist Yuriorkis Gamboa in the opening round of the 2004 Olympics. Already 29 at the time, the Thai flyweight was at a point where his only feasible options were a move to the pros or retirement.
Jongjohor chose door number three – stick it out four more years and strive for Gold before calling it a career. The 33-year old achieve that goal - fittingly enough against another Cuban, as Jongjohor stormed to flyweight’s top prize with an 8-2 win over 30-year old Andry Laffita.
Much like Lomachenko’s run at featherweight, close fights were little more than a rumor for Jongjohor, who outscored his opponents 39-10 in five fights. It was a fitting end to a long, storied amateur career, as he now plans to move on to coaching.
Perhaps he can help light welterweight teammate Manus Boomjumnong pick up the pieces and rebuild for the 2012 Games in London. The 2004 Olympic Gold medalist was on the wrong end of the evening’s first major upset, as Manuel Felix Diaz became the first ever fighter from the Dominican Republic to capture a Gold medal with a surprisingly easy 12-4 win.
The bout was in stark contrast to Diaz’ semifinal match, though with the same shocking result as he came from way behind to defeat France’s Alexis Vastine on Friday afternoon. The margin of victory in the 12-10 semifinal match came from a two-point foul suffered by Vastine with less than 20 seconds left in a bout that wasn’t always easy on the eyes.
Diaz wasn’t in need of referee intervention against Jongjohor, turning a close action-packed fight through two rounds into a complete rout, literally pounding his way to Olympic Gold.
Great Britain’s James Degale became known as one of the action heroes in this year's Olympics, but would have to fall back on his boxing skills in order to bring home the Gold, staving off a late rally to take a 16-14 win over Cuba’s Emilio Correa.
Degale sprinted out to a 6-1 lead after one, forcing Correa out of his envelope in his best efforts to turn a boxing match into a full-scale war.
The tactic resulted in a bout that was sloppy and awkward at times. It also enabled Correa to chip away at Deale’s lead, but not after falling behind 9-4 midway through. A two-point foul helped, when Degale was nabbed for holding, helping the Cuban cut the lead to three.
Correa wouldn’t get much closer, despite his fourth-round tally (six points) nearly matching his three-round tally of eight. That’s because Degale remained with him tit-for-tat, scoring five points of his own in the final round for the two-point win.
Team Cuba gets two more cracks at Olympic Gold on Sunday afternoon, but further adding to their woes is failing to uphold a 20-year tradition.
The heavyweight division was conquered by a non-Cuban fighter for the first time since 1998, nor was the nation even involved in the Gold medal bout.
The same man responsible for both occurrences is Russia’s Rakhim Chakhkeiv who, one fight after eliminating Cuba’s Osmay Acosta, claimed heavyweight Oympic Gold with a 4-2 win over Italy’s Clemente Russo.
It was double the pleasure for Chakhkeiv, who dropped a one-point loss to Russo in the final round of last year’s World Amateur Championships in Chicago.
Revenge came in slow and agonizing fashion, as the bout wasn’t the most pleasing on the eyes, which is par for the course for Russo. Chakhkeiv braved it out, jumping out to an early 1-0 before falling to a 2-2 tie. A scoreless third kept the two knotted until Chakhkeiv scored the final two points of the fight in the fourth round to provide the final margin of victory.
Chakhkeiv’s win comes on the heels of what has been a particularly tough Olympic competition for the Russian squad. The amateur boxing powerhouse was represented in all eleven weight classes, but sent only three fighters into the medal round.
Russia sits at one Gold and Bronze for the moment, though a second Gold medal is all but in the bag. Alexei Tishchenko, regarded by many as one of the world’s best amateur fighters, is the odds on favorite to take the lightweight division. His bout with France’s Daouda Sow is one of the six remaining Gold medal matches scheduled for Sunday afternoon.
Falling behind on your Olympic boxing intake? Catch up by clicking on the following link for the complete archive of Boxingscene.com’s unmatched Olympic coverage:
BOXINGSCENE.COM 2008 OLYMPIC BOXING CATALOG
Jake Donovan is a voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Comments/questions can be submitted to JakeNDaBox@gmail.com .