Friday 22 March 2019

Ward ready to vent four years of frustration

Joe Ward. Photo: Sportsfile
Joe Ward. Photo: Sportsfile

Sean McGoldrick

Four years later than anticipated, Joe Ward finally makes his Olympic debut tonight when he faces Ecuadoran Carlos Mina (11.15).

Light-heavyweight Ward (22) has won silver and bronze medals at the World championship and was crowned European champion in 2011 when he was just 17, but watching the 2012 Games from his home in Moate hurt him.

Ward betrays little emotion but one can only imagine how he felt as he watched Russian Egor Mekhontsev win the light-heavyweight gold in London. Months earlier at the Chemistry Cup in Germany he had hammered Mekhonstsev 20-14.

But Ward did open up after he secured his place in Rio by outclassing Elshod Rasulov in the semi-final of the World championships in Doha, declaring: "It was great to get the win after all the ups and downs I've had. A lot of people wrote me off but I stuck with it."

A classy southpaw, Ward is a much more mature boxer now that the 18-year-old wonderkid who missed out in London through a combination of carelessness on his part allied to a woeful judging decision.

At the 2011 World championships in Baku, Ward suffered his first ever defeat at Elite level, losing on a countback to Iran's Ehsan Rouzbahani.

He had a second chance at a Olympic qualifier in Turkey in spring 2012 but he was the victim of a classic home-town decision, going down 18-15 to local fighter Bahram Muzaffer. Video analysis revealed that Ward should have won by at least ten points.

Ward - seeded fourth in Rio - will carry a lot of hurt into tonight's fight, which mightn't be a bad thing, because he has a habit of just doing enough to win, which is a dangerous approach.

Still, on all known form he ought to advance to the quarter-finals.

From a sporting family - his brother Nixon has represented Ecuador in basketball - Mina comfortably beat Germany's Serge Michel in his opening bout.

Prior to travelling to Rio, Ward reiterated how much boxing at the Olympic meant to him.

"I have good people around me. They always believed in me and they told me to stick at it and that it would come around and I would qualify," he said. "That's what I did - and I turned down a lot of big professional offers just to be here.

"This is where all those sacrifices, not to turn professional, come good. I'm representing Ireland at the Olympic Games. It's always been my dream."

One suspects, Ward has Olympic medals on his mind and, in particular, a semi-final re-match against Cuba's Julio Cesar La Cruz, who beat him in the gold medal fight at the World championships in Doha. But for the moment a win and a place in the quarter-final will suffice.

Meanwhile, the ramifications of Paddy Barnes' shock exit continue to reverberate. It was the first time that an Irish Olympic boxer had failed to win a bout at the Games since Michael Roche bowed out in the first round in Sydney in 2000.

Barnes' shock revelation afterwards that he failed to make the 49kg weight limit 'every time' during the seven-fight World Boxing series in 2015 undermines the credibility of using the WSB competition as an official Olympic qualifier.

Barnes' team, Italia Thunder got around the problem by paying a fine. But in a sport where weights are sacrosanct, Barnes' revelation demands an explanation from AIBA.

The double Olympic bronze medallist hadn't made the 49kg weight limit since winning the gold medal at the Commonwealth Games in 2014 and had to shed nearly one and a half stone in the last ten weeks to make the limit in Rio. It was a recipe for disaster.

Irish Independent

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