Friday’s semi-finals of the AIBA European Olympic Qualifiers in Samsun, Turkey, lived up to their billing as 26 superb bouts of boxing revealed which of the continent’s athletes would join those already qualified from Africa, the Americas and Asia and Oceania at the 2016 Olympic Games. Accompanying Europe’s 26 men and women finalists from 11 countries already booked on the plane to Rio will be the winners of Saturday’s men’s third-place box-offs.
The first contest of the afternoon saw Bulgaria’s reigning AIBA Women’s World Champion Stanimira Petrova confirm her place at Rio 2016 with a comfortable victory over Ukraine’s Tetyana Kob at flyweight, and she will now meet 2012 Olympic champion Nicola Adams in the final after the British star beat Norway’s Marielle Hansen.
Ireland’s Katie Taylor was unable to follow suit, however, as she fell to rising Azeri star Yana Alekseevna. The five-time world champion never recovered from a testing first round, suffering her first defeat since 2011 in the shock of the tournament so far, with Alekseevna setting up a final showdown with Italy’s talented Irma Testa. The women’s middleweight semis saw Russian Iaroslava Iakushina defeat Germany’s Sarah Scheurich while Sweden’s two-time world champion Anna Laurell eliminated the Hungarian Petra Szatmari.
In the men’s competition, young British sensation Galal Yafai overcame the last remaining Spanish boxer Samuel Carmona Heredia to secure his Rio quota place and set up a gold-medal match against Armenia’s Artur Hovhannisyan.
“I feel unbelievably happy after my semi-final victory. My opponent was really good and very strong and I know it was not my best performance, but I’m happy to have won such an important contest. I am still fresh so now I want to go on and win the event and take a medal at the Olympic Games,” said Yafai after the bout.
Azeri 23-year-old Javid Chalabiyev controlled his bantamweight semi-final against Armenian number one Aram Avagyan, before Great Britain’s Qais Ashfaq beat Ukraine’s Mykola Butsenko. Another Azeri star, light welterweight Lorenzo Sotomayor, was able to overcome home favourite Batuhan Gozgec and he will meet Lithuania’s London 2012 Olympic Games bronze medallist Evaldas Petrauskas for the gold medal.
French number one Christian Mbilli Assomo registered another excellent win against British rival Anthony Fowler at middleweight, and will face Hungary’s Zoltan Harcsa, who proved too strong for Germany’s Xhek Paskali.
“I am very satisfied with my performance today. I followed the gameplan closely and felt that I was physically and mentally stronger than my opponent. Now I will do my very best in the final,” said the in-form Assomo afterwards.
Another member of the British team, Muhammad Ali, overcame Bulgarian 19-year-old Daniel Asenov and will now meet Narek Abgaryan in Saturday’s flyweight final following the Armenian’s superb win over Ireland’s Brendan Irvine. Ali’s teammate Joseph Cordina did enough to edge a gripping encounter with Irish APB boxer David Joyce in their lightweight semi-final and set up a gold-medal match Frenchman Sofiane Oumiha after the Frenchman comfortably beat Turkish 20-year-old Volkan Gokcek.
Lithuanian APB boxer Eimantas Stanionis defeated Moldova’s London 2012 Olympian Vasilii Belous in the first welterweight semi-final, before Italy’s Vincenzo Mangiacapre joined him in the final with a win over Armenia’s Vladimir Margaryan.
Dutch star Peter Mullenberg will be Holland’s first Olympian since 1992 following his triumph over Turkey’s Nadir Unal and will go up against Great Britain’s Rio Test Event winner Joshua Buatsi in the light heavyweight final, with Ukraine’s AIBA Youth World Champion Oleksandr Khyzhniak going into a box-off for the last Olympic quota place against home favourite Unal.
Great Britain’s Lawrence Okolie continued his remarkable rise at heavyweight with a strong win over Azerbaijan’s 2015 European Games winner Abdulkadir Abdullayev, and will go for gold against Ukrainian Gevorg Manukian on Saturday evening. Fellow Brit Joe Joyce realised his Olympic goal with a trademark KO against Hungary’s Istvan Bernath, but he will have a tougher task to take the gold as he tackles Azerbaijan’s two-time AIBA World Champion Mahammadrasul Majidov.