Galal Yafai said he was overwhelmed after winning the flyweight gold medal at the Olympic Games in Tokyo and admitted he never really thought he would become an Olympic champion.
Yafai, the younger brother of former WBA super-flyweight champion Kal and former European champion Gamal, claimed the gold with a 4-1 split decision over Carlo Paalam, of the Philippines, on Saturday, knocking Paalam down with a left cross in the first round.
Six years ago, Yafai was working at the Land Rover production plant, but he qualified for the Rio Olympics in 2016, where he lost in the last 16 stage at light-flyweight to Cuba’s Joahnys Argilagos, and stayed on the GB squad for Tokyo, securing his spot in March 2020 the night the European qualifiers in London were postponed.
“Being Olympic champion is something I’ve always wanted to do,” Yafai said. “I’m Olympic champion now and I’m over the moon.
“I’ve worked hard, I took up boxing and thank god it worked out for me. I trained hard, gave it everything, and it just shows that if you work hard, you can get the rewards.
“My friends, family, brothers will be over the moon. Everyone back in Birmingham, the support I’ve had has been ridiculous, I just want to say a big thanks to everyone who has supported me. It’s overwhelming, I’m just so grateful for everyone to show me that love.”
Yafai admitted to having doubts about whether he would succeed in Tokyo, but his gold was the third in the apartment at the Olympic Village, which he shares with Frazer Clarke, who won super-heavyweight bronze, and Ben Whittaker, who won light-heavyweight silver.
“I don’t know if, at every moment, I knew or believed that I was going to be Olympic champion,” Yafai said.
“All the coaches would tell me: ‘Galal you’re going to be Olympic champion,’ and I’d say: ‘No chance.’ I’d just say: ‘Nah, they’re just saying that to be nice to me; they’re my coaches.’ But they were right.”
“I could hear big Frazer Clarke and I want to say a big happy birthday to him as well. It’s his day. He said to me to win the Olympic gold for his birthday and I’m glad to do that as his present.”
Yafai became the fourth Great Britain boxer to win flyweight gold at the Olympics. Terry Spinks won at Melbourne in 1956, while Nicola Adams claimed the first two flyweight women’s titles in 2012 and 2016.
He is the first boxer from Birmingham to win gold since Harry Thomas, who won bantamweight gold in 1908. Thomas moved to the US where the highlight of his professional career was a win over recently deposed world featherweight champion Abe Attell at Madison Square Garden.