Shelley Watts excelled at her first major tournament. Photo: James Brickwood Andrew Moloney out-pointed Muhammed Waseem of Pakistan. Photo: James Brickwood
Joe Goodall was outclassed by Joe Joyce of England. Photo: James Brickwood
Kevin Smith doesn’t do a lot of talking. “I’ve just got to go and, er…” was all he had to say as he whizzed past Australian journalists in Glasgow, disappearing down the corridor with a sly grin and leaving his number one man, Don Abnett, to do the talking.
“I’ve got a good feeling about it,” Abnett said about the future prospects of Australian boxing after a successful tournament at the Commonwealth Games.
“I like working with coach Kevin. I have since I met him and I really believe he can bring something good to Australian boxing.”
He already has. The Liverpudlian, who only took over as Australian boxing’s head coach in May, doesn’t say much outside of the inner-circle but his methods clearly work. After the final night of boxing in Glasgow, he could count two golds and a silver as reward for his techniques.
Australia didn’t win a single medal in Delhi four years ago and despite sending some 11 fighters to the Olympics, none returned with a medal of any colour. It was back to the drawing board but the signs are promising.
Shelley Watts (lightweight) and Andrew Moloney (flyweight) both won gold in Glasgow’s cavernous Hydro arena, making it a perfect start for the Australians on finals day. Super heavyweight Joe Goodall, still a relative novice in the ring, had a much tougher assignment against England’s Joe Joyce, who beat him convincingly over three rounds.
“It was overwhelming the pressure and I just felt I had nothing,” said Goodall, still just 22 and with only four years of boxing under his belt. “I was looking for the one-punch knockout at the end there but my timing was out. I was sloppy with my footwork and off balance.
“I think I had a good tournament all in all. I am happy with winning silver.”
Daniel Lewis would have been a chance at gold, as well, before a bad cut on his eye saw him bow out of the competition. There has been much debate about the withdrawal of head protection for the male fighters but AIBA, boxing’s governing body, insists they new laws will remain, despite a proliferation of split heads.
The big question for Smith is how he turns renewed momentum in Australian boxing into some success in Rio. Australian wasn’t short of representatives in London but none made much headway, even if fighters like Jeff Horn and Damien Hooper have made promising starts to their respective professional careers.
It may well be Australia’s brightest hope in Rio is Watts, who blazed her way through the Commonwealth tournament in fine style. At 26 and competing at her first major event, she looks a serious talent with immense amounts of improvement still to come.
She fights in the same division as Ireland’s Katie Taylor, the Olympic gold medallist and four-time world champion. And while she has yards to make up on the Irish great, the potential for Australia’s first Olympic boxing medal since 1988 (Grahame ‘spike’ Cheney’s silver) is apparent.
The Commonwealth Games boxing tournament was missing some of the sport’s biggest hitters; Russia, Ukraine and Cuba. It obviously takes some sting out of the results but after some lean years, the Australian camp will grab any momentum they gained and run with it.
How far they can go will be revealed at the 2015 World Championships, then Rio. But even getting to the Olympics has become a mission of its own, with Australia qualifying a certain amount of fighters through Oceania and the rest through an Asian qualifier that includes powerhouses like India and Kazakhstan, which has become a dominant force in the amateur ranks.
To make it more difficult, no Australian fighters compete in the World Series of Boxing, which allows fighters to compete as professionals while still being eligible for the Olympic Games. Joyce, who gave Goodall a boxing lesson, has operated in that competition and the difference was on show for all to see.
Coaches like Abnett and Smith know the lay of the land of Australian boxing and how difficult it has become to turn talents into Olympians. But with the likes of Watts at the vanguard of the next generation of prospects, the wait for more Olympic success may be shorter than you think.
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