Britain's Degale has Olympic boxing's latest upset
BEIJING (AP) James Degale strolled through the back hallway at Workers' Gymnasium bellowing a tuneless song of his own composition.
The lyrics were tough to decipher despite his volume, but it was something about winning an Olympic boxing medal and being very happy about it.
Degale wasn't the only fighter with a song in his heart after the final day of quarterfinal bouts. The ebullient British middleweight was just the loudest - and maybe the most unlikely winner of all in a tournament chock-full of upsets.
"I'm going down in history," Degale crowed. "Whatever happens on the weekend, I'm going to be in the history book."
Degale beat former Olympic champion Bakhtiyar Artayev of Kazakhstan 8-3 Wednesday night to clinch Britain's third boxing medal in Beijing, while Vijender Kumar of India won the evening's final bout to earn the first boxing medal in India's history.
Cuba's last two fighters also reached the semifinals with one-sided victories, guaranteeing a whopping eight medals for the sport's now-unquestioned power. Flyweight Andris Laffita earned a marquee meeting with Russia's Georgy Balakshin, while middleweight Emilio Correa emulated his medal-winning father with a win over Uzbekistan's Elshod Rasulov.
But nobody looked better than Degale in his stunning upset of Artayev, the Athens welterweight champion who beat vaunted Russian Matvey Korobov in his last fight. Artayev's loss to Degale, a talented but unpedigreed middleweight, was even more stunning - particularly since Degale's solid performance left no doubt.
While Degale celebrated by dropping to his knees and raising his gloves to the sky, Artayev's coach held his stricken fighter in a touching embrace.
In the final bout, Vijender Kumar entered the ring to a chant of "Jia You India!" from his Mandarin-savvy fans, and the 22-year-old middleweight thoroughly controlled his bout with Ecuador's Carlos Gongora, winning 9-4.
India had never won a boxing medal in 12 Olympics beginning in 1948, and the notoriously underachieving Olympic team only won its first individual gold earlier in these Olympics in a shooting sport. After getting three fighters to the quarterfinals, Kumar was India's last chance after two teammates from the same town slipped on the cusp of a medal.
About 90 minutes before Kumar's victory, Jitender Kumar stayed close but couldn't match the reflexes and experience of Balakshin, the three-time European champion who clinched his first Olympic medal. The arena was remarkably lively for their bout, with Indian flags waving in the lower seats and hundreds of chanting Russians filling the upper reaches.
"There was no pressure on me at all," Jitender Kumar said. "The most troublesome thing were the 10 stitches I have on my chin. I was very worried if I get a hit and started oozing blood, I may be stopped by the referee from fighting. It was a psychological thing which played its part."
With heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko watching from the stands, Ireland clinched its third medal of the games with middleweight Darren John Sutherland's 11-1 thrashing of Venezuela's Alfonso Blanco. The Irish still haven't won a medal at any sport in Beijing, but will make a solid haul from boxing this weekend.
Sutherland will fight Degale next, and the two have a lengthy history of at least five competitive bouts. Degale already began a bit of rubbish-talking, claiming that "with the skill I've got, I should beat him every day."
With British light heavyweight Tony Jeffries also fighting Ireland's Kenny Egan on Friday, Workers' Gymnasium should be hopping with British Isles partisanship - and hopefully with a few extra security guards as well.
Italy's Vincenzo Picardi left the arena on his coach's shoulders after beating Tunisia's Walid Cherif to clinch a medal. Italy already clinched medals for its two heaviest fighters, world champions Roberto Cammarelle and Clemente Russo, but rarely does well in the lighter classes.