Algerian boxing is back on the map at Africa Olympic Qualifying event
After 172 bouts across 7 days of boxing in Dakar, there are just two sessions remaining in the Africa Olympic Qualifying tournament.
So far, 26 boxers have secured their route to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics this summer, but there are still another seven places up for grabs on Friday and Saturday, and a great deal of pride to box for too.
Algeria are back
There were tears of joy and sadness on Wednesday as the semi-finals meant it was mission achieved for some boxers, and the end of the road for others.
Algeria had a remarkable day as seven boxers secured their places in Tokyo, while Morocco qualified four, with the hopes of two more still alive in the box-offs.
Algeria has a strong Olympic history and was the last African nation to win Olympic gold, at Atlanta 1996 through Hocine Soltani. That is a legacy that still burns today, according to Chouaib Bouloudinats, who will be heading to his third Olympics.
“We have a long history of boxing but our performance here is proof that Algeria is the home of boxing in Africa like Russia, Cuba, Kazakhstan [in Europe, America and Asia],” the super-heavyweight explained.
Mohamed Flissi: How we plan to make Algerian boxing proud
Mohamed Flissi: How we plan to make Algerian boxing proudAlgeria's Hocine Soltani was the last African to win Olympic gold at Atlanta 1996. Mohamed Flissi and three-time African champion Abdelhafid Benchabla are hoping to end that drought. "My dream is to win a medal for Algeria and Africa," Benchabla told us at the African Olympic qualifier in Dakar, where Benchabla and Flissi booked their spots at Tokyo 2020.
'Boxing is big back in Zambia'
Perhaps the most remarkable story of the tournament has been Zambia, who only sent a team of three to Dakar, all aged between 19 and 20, and they all qualified. The names Patrick Chinyemba, Everisto Mulenga, and Stephen Zimba will be ones to look out for in Tokyo.
"We promised Zambians that we are going to Tokyo” - Stephen Zimba.
“We came here the three of us and all three of us have qualified. People back home will be very proud of us for this achievement. Boxing is big back in Zambia, it’s second to football.”
There were two qualifiers each from Cameroon, Mozambique, and Tunisia, as well as one from Botswana, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Mauritius, and Namibia.
Nick Okoth will be 37 by the time the Games come round, but the Kenyan team captain qualified for his first Olympics since Beijing in 2008 and found it an emotional experience.
“My wife called me today and told me, 'go get the ticket',” Okoth said. “I told her, 'don’t you understand how tough the fights here are?' She said, “you are tougher!”
“To go back where I have been 12 years later is something, I will never forget this day. None of the Kenyans who fought today have made it, so I know what this means for them, the coaches and Kenyans.”
Another boxer fighting back the tears was Richarno Colin, of Mauritius. "These are tears of joy,” he said. “I worked so hard for my third Olympics after Beijing and London. I am not a full-time boxer, I train morning and evening and in between I work at the sports council as a handy man, cleaning and doing other stuff.
“This is special. I wish I can go to Tokyo and get to the podium.”
Where there are winners, there must be losers too. Ghana and Uganda had high hopes at the start of the day, having both seen five boxers reach the semi-finals, only to see them all lose. However, both countries still have four boxers with a chance of making it to Tokyo through the box-offs.
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Thursday is a rest day, but there are sessions on Friday and Saturday, with 13 finals and seven box-offs in the women’s flyweight division and the men’s weight categories between flyweight and light-heavyweight.