Boxing Olympic Qualification: What we learnt from Dakar
After nine days of action in Dakar, 33 boxers can look forward to packing their bags for the Tokyo Olympics this summer. The standard was refreshingly high, but it would be dangerous to draw too many conclusions from that and competition will be strong for medals in Japan.
As expected, Algeria and Morocco, traditionally the powerhouses of African boxing, dominated the number of qualifiers, Algeria with seven and Morocco with six, while there were three each for Cameroon and Zambia.
There was a mixture of exciting young talent and wise old heads, the oldest being Kenya's Nick Okoth, who will be 37 by the time he boxes in Tokyo, 12 years after his previous Olympic appearance in Beijing.
There were a few stand-outs too. The flamboyant Cameroon super-heavyweight Maxime Yegnong Njieyo looks like he has the power to hurt anyone, while Shadiri Bwogi, the Uganda welterweight, seemed to possess never-ending energy.
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Most exciting were the three young Zambians, Patrick Chinyemba, Everisto Mulenga and Stephen Zimba, who qualified for Tokyo, with flashing fists and feet that moved just as fast. But it is difficult to over-emphasise the importance of experience at the top level of Olympic boxing and even their national coach, Wisdom Mudenda, suggested that the target for the trio was more likely to be Paris in 2024, rather than Tokyo in 2020.
But there is plenty of experience around. Abdelhafid Benchabla, of Algeria, qualified for his fourth Olympics, having lost out at the quarter-final stage three times previously to some serious talents. This is his first Olympics at heavyweight, though, and at 33, he still has to prove he is at his peak.
Fellow Algerians Mohamed Flissi, at flyweight, and Chouaib Bouloudinats, at super-heavyweight, will both be going to their third Olympics. Of the two, Flissi looks the more likely to get close to a place on the podium.
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The standard of the women's divisions was encouragingly high and in Khadija Mardi, the Moroccan middleweight, there is someone who can reasonably be called a medal prospect, a task that will be helped by the fact that she will almost certainly be seeded in the top three in Tokyo.
Seeding counts a lot in tournaments like the Olympics. In one of two division where there could be outstanding boxers, the idea of avoiding them until the medal rounds, is huge when getting a medal of any colour is all important.
Or how the heart-wrenching story of Kenya's Christine Ongare, who was pregnant at 12 and was hoping that a place in Tokyo would change her life. And she accomplised at least the first part of her mission pounding out a unanimous points decision in the women's flyweight box-off.
The top-ranked two men prior to Dakar were Yousry Hafez, the Egypt super-heavyweight, and Mohamed Hamout, the Moroccan featherweight. Neither qualified, leaving Egypt light-heavyweight Abdelrahman Abdelgawwad as possibly the best hope for an African man to be seeded.
The impact of professionals in Tokyo will also be interesting. After a late rule change, only three professionals made it to Rio, all in the autumn years of their careers, and they made little impact. While several countries will not be considering boxers who have been in the professional ranks, others will be.
One of the most interesting qualifiers from Dakar was Cameroon middleweight Wilfred Seyi-Ntsengue, a Rio Olympian and Commonwealth Games silver medal-winner, before turning professional in Canada, where he has won all eight of his professional bouts.
At 22, he is very much still on the way up, but after looking sensational in his first two bouts, he started to flag before qualifying narrowly in a box-off. The workload of these competitions - when you expect to box and make weight sometimes on a daily basis - does not suit a professional used to boxing once every few months, so it will be interesting to see how he copes.
The standard in Dakar was good. How good, we will only know once we have seen the other qualifiers. But having only won one medal from the past two Olympics combined, there is hope that Africa will do better at Tokyo 2020.
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Who has qualified
Here is the list of boxers who secured their ticket to Tokyo at the African qualifier in Dakar:
Men's flyweight (52 kg): Mohamed Flissi (Algeria), Patrick Chinyemba (Zambia), Tetteh Sulemanu (Ghana)
Men's featherweight (57 kg): Everisto Mulenga (Zambia), Nicholas Okoth (Kenya), Samuel Takyi (Ghana)
Men's light welterweight (63 kg): Jonas Jonas (Namibia), Louis Richarno Colin (Mauritius), Abdelhaq Nadir (Morocco)
Men's welterweight (69 kg): Albert Mengue (Cameroon), Stephen Zimba (Zambia), Shadiri Bwogi (Uganda)
Men's middleweight (75 kg): Younes Nemouchi (Algeria), David Tshama (DR Congo), Wilfried Seyi Ntsengue (Cameroon)
Men's light heavyweight (81 kg): Abdelrahman Salah Orabi (Egypt), Mohammed Houmri (Algeria), Mohamed Assaghir (Morocco)
Men's heavyweight (91 kg): Youness Baalla (Morocco), Abdelhafid Benchabla (Algeria)
Men's super heavyweight (+91 kg): Maxime Yegnong Njieyo (Cameroon), Chouaib Bouloudinats (Algeria)
Women's flyweight (48-51 kg): Rabab Cheddar (Morocco), Roumaysa Boualam (Algeria), Christine Ongare (Kenya)
Women's featherweight (54-57 kg): Khouloud Hlimi (Tunisia), Sadie Kenosi (Botswana)
Women's lightweight (57-60 kg): Imane Khelif (Algeria), Mariem Homrani (Tunisia)
Women's welterweight (64-69 kg): Oumayma Bel Ahbib (Morocco), Helena Panguana (Mozambique)
Women's middleweight (69-75 kg): Khadija Mardi (Morocco), Rady Gramane (Mozambique)