Flyweight Antonio Vargas has earned his spot at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games Thursday in competition at the 2016 World Olympic Qualification Event in Baku, Azerbaijan.
Vargas, currently No. 15 in the latest world rankings, entered the tournament needing a top-five finish to earn his spot in Rio. He scored a 3-0 win in his first bout over India’s Gaurav Bidhuri, who is No. 33 in the latest world rankings, then defeated world No. 12 Yoel Finol Rivas of Venezuela. He followed that with two more 3-0 decisions, stopping world No. 48 Eddie Valenzuela Barillas of Guatemala and No. 13-ranked Vincenzo Picardo from Italy, to secure his spot in Rio. While his ticket to Brazil is firmly in his possession, he still has work to do in Azerbaijan, with a semifinal bout scheduled for Friday.
Defeating higher-ranked opponents is nothing new to Vargas. On his way to the gold medal at the Toronto 2015 Pan American Games he vanquished two foes who already had qualified to compete in Rio, a sign that he will be in the hunt for a podium finish.
A native of Houston, his parents started him in boxing at the age of 9 to help him with attention deficit disorder. USA Boxing’s 2015 Elite Male Athlete of the Year, he has progressed quickly from winning USA Boxing’s youth championship in 2013 to taking a national title in 2015 and the U.S. Olympic Team Trials title later that year. He will celebrate his 20th birthday during the Olympic tournament in Brazil.
In Rio, Vargas will be in search of the first U.S. medal in the flyweight division since Timothy Austin won bronze at the Barcelona 1992 Olympic Games. The last time an American claimed flyweight gold was Steve McCrory, who won at the Los Angeles 1984 Olympic Games.