Saturday 17 August 2019

Golden boy Walker aiming to carry Minsk magic to Tokyo

Kurt Walker celebrates victory in yesterday's bantamweight final. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Kurt Walker celebrates victory in yesterday's bantamweight final. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile

Bernard O'Neill

Kurt Walker has vowed to finish in a podium position at Tokyo 2020 after claiming gold at the 2nd European Games in Minsk yesterday.

The Antrim bantam beat Ukraine's Mykola Butsenko on a unanimous 30-27, 30-27, 30-27, 29-28, 29-28 verdict to claim the 56th title at the Uruchie Sports Palace.

In action against Mykola Butsenko of Ukraine. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile
In action against Mykola Butsenko of Ukraine. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile

Yesterday's loss to Walker was the second time that the Odessa southpaw dropped a gold medal decision to an Irishman in Minsk as he was beaten by John Joe Nevin in the European Elite final in the Belarusian capital in 2013.

The 24-year-old Ulster orthodox believes his body punches secured the victory but he also had enough head shots to take all five judges with him against the No 3 seed.

"It's absolutely unbelievable," said Walker. "I actually can't describe how good I feel. The coaches need so much credit. You see the game plan, it was unbelievable and I knew it was working. When I came back after the first round they (coaches) were both buzzing and they're never usually like that.

"My body shots were slowing him down and they were more eye-catching as well.

Kellie Harrington collects her silver. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Kellie Harrington collects her silver. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile

"Two years ago in European Championships he beat me in the semi-finals and it just shows I've grown so much as a boxer and a man. In the last two years I've matured big time.

"You have these dreams of it (winning gold) happening but when it actually does happen you don't know what to do, it's unbelievable.

"I'm 100pc confident that I will be there (Tokyo 2020) and I'm 100pc confident that I can medal."

Medals

Walker's gold, plus double silver for Kellie Harrington and Michaela Walsh and three bronze for Regan Buckley, Grainne Walsh and Michael Nevin, helped Ireland's 11-strong boxing team to a fifth place finish in the medals table at the 44-nation tournament.

Great Britain, Ukraine, Armenia, Russia and Ireland finished in the top five. Irish captain Kellie Harrington had to withdraw from yesterday's final with Finland's Mira Potkonen after picking up a hand injury in her semi-final win over Sweden's Agnes Alexiusson.

Potkonen, who is two years shy of the mandatory retirement age of 40 for amateur boxers and who beat Katie Taylor at Rio 2016, claimed the lightweight gold on a walkover.

Bernard Dunne, IABA high performance director, said that it was unlucky that Harrington, who also picked up a hand injury against Jelina Jelic in an international bout on Irish Elite finals night in Dublin in February, had to withdraw.

"It's unfortunate this injury has arisen, but the right decision has been made that she doesn't compete. Hand injuries are part and parcel of boxing, but we need to manage it the right way to ensure a quick return to action," he said.

Harrington won two fights en route to the final in Minsk and has one eye on the European Elite Championships in Spain in August.

But whether the World Women's Championships goes ahead in Siberia in October remains to be seen as the International Boxing Association (AIBA) is banned from any involvement with Tokyo 2020 by the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

It is understood that Russia has offered to run both the Men's and Women's Worlds later this year without any input from the AIBA which was sanctioned by the IOC because of concerns about governance and ethics.

Harrington and Irish boxing are building toward the European qualifiers for Tokyo 2020 in London next spring.

"I'm disappointed to not be competing but I understand that there's a bigger picture to be taken into account," Harrington said.

"It would be too much of a risk to go in there and have another setback."

Head coach Zaur Antia and coaches John Conlan and Dmitry Dimitruk were working Ireland's corner in Minsk.

Irish Independent

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