Facial injuries a cause for concern as Conlan spearheads medal hunt
Published 13/08/2016 | 02:30
Michael Conlan grew up in a boxing family in West Belfast. His father John - who is one of Ireland's assistant coaches in Rio - is a Dubliner.
During his teenage years, John boxed for Drimnagh BC before moving to Belfast where he married a local girl, Teresa and reared three sons: Jamie, who is now a professional boxer, Brendan and Michael.
John took his three sons to the St John Bosco boxing club on the Falls Road, where the careers of Olympians Freddie Gilroy, Sean McCaffrey and Martin Quinn were forged.
Michael's first memory of the sport is watching the boxing at the 2004 Athens Olympics, aged 12.
He was taken, in particular, by the performance of the then British wonderkid Amir Khan, who won a silver medal.
"He was only 17 but he did so well. I said to my parents, 'l'll be there one day'," he recalls.
Conlan fulfilled that ambition in London, ending up with a bronze medal after losing to the eventual gold medallist Robelsy Ramirez in the semi-final of the flyweight division.
It's a measure of how Conlan's career has progressed since that even though the Cuban has also moved to the 56kg category, the Irishman is the No 1 seed.
Conlan (25), the reigning World, European and Commonwealth champion, begins his Rio campaign tomorrow and should have too much for Armenia's Aram Avagyan.
But John Conlan insists there are no easy fights at the Olympic Games.
"There is this illusion that there will be a lot of soft touches in the first few rounds. There are no soft touches there," he said.
"There are 27 other guys in Michael's weight division and all of them can get a medal. But Michael is flying."
Conlan, who is equally comfortable boxing as an orthodox or as a southpaw, hasn't lost since being the victim of a 'home town' decision in the World Boxing series in Almaty in early 2015.
The decision almost cost him a chance of qualifying through the WSB for the Olympics. He had to be prevailed upon to get into the ring for his final contest in Venezuela in April 2015 because his situation looked hopeless.
But the unheralded Hector Luis Garcia Mora surprisingly ended the unbeaten record of Magomed Gurbanov, which enabled Conlan to overtake the Azeri boxer in the rankings and secure his place in Rio.
The unspoken fear about Conlan is that he has suffered two serious facial injuries in the last two years, which suggests that in the post-headguard era he is prone to these injuries, the majority of which are caused by so-called accidental head clashes.
He suffered a nasty gash above his eye in the Commonwealth Games semi-final in 2014. The fight was stopped but as Conlan was ahead on points at the time, he was awarded the decision
Against the odds he was medically passed fit to fight in the final which he won.
More worryingly, his last competitive appearance, in Lithuania in May, had to be aborted after he suffered a facial cut which required stitches after a clash of heads.
Provided these issues don't recur today he looks set to secure a place in the last eight.