Bernard Dunne backs Kurt Walker to bounce back from Olympic qualifier disappointment

Kurt Walker fell at the first hurdle in London, bowing out at the last 16 stage to Germany's Hamsat Shadalov. Picture by PA
Neil Loughran

KURT Walker has the tools to bounce back from his European qualifier disappointment and book his spot at next summer’s rescheduled Olympic Games in Tokyo.

That is the message from Bernard Dunne, high performance director of the Irish Athletic Boxing Association (IABA), after the Lisburn featherweight fell to a surprise defeat at the hands of Germany’s tricky Hamsat Shadalov in London earlier this month.

With the Games postponed from this summer until July 23-August 8 2021, and the yet-to-be rescheduled World qualifier his last remaining chance at reaching a first Olympics, there could be a temptation for Walker to consider a move to the pro ranks.

The 25-year-old wouldn’t be short of suitors if that was the case, but Dunne insists he hasn’t even considered the possibility of Walker turning over – and feels he is still in with a major chance of qualifying.

“The first time it entered my head was when you said it,” said the Dubliner when asked about Walker’s future.

“Kurt is top four in the world, let’s not forget that. Kurt fears nobody and I have full confidence that he will get his performance right. There was a lot of pressure on Kurt, when you’re a European gold medallist, everybody back home expecting you to qualify…

“You have to remember, the European qualifier is the hardest place to try and qualify, there are world class athletes but sometimes it is just is expected that the Irish boxing team is going to qualify A, B and C.

“It’s a challenge, it’s extremely tough. He came up against an opponent who, on the day, performed better, but Kurt will get that right. I’ve no doubt about it. He has a second chance to put it right. Kurt’s an experienced athlete, he’ll know what exactly he’s got to do.”

The International Olympic Committee has yet to set a date for the resumption of the European qualifier, which was brought to a close after just three days of action, or the World qualifier, which had been set to take place in Paris from May 13-24.

Several of Ireland’s boxers – including Belfast’s Michaela Walsh - didn’t even get the chance to lace up gloves in London, despite putting in months of preparation, and will have to start the process again once the new dates are announced.

One man who already knows he will be in Tokyo next summer is Brendan Irvine after he defeated Hungary’s Istvan Szaka to secure the last eight place needed to secure his spot at a second consecutive Games.

Afterwards Irvine paid tribute to Dunne and the Irish coaches for sticking by him after an 18 month period dogged by injury, and the former world super-bantamweight champion hailed the “incredible achievement” of the St Paul’s ace.

“I was so happy for Brendan,” said Dunne, who narrowly missed out on qualification for the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney before embarking on a successful pro career.

“Given what he’s gone through over the last two years, injuries, getting back into great shape for the European Games then to pick up another injury… it seemed like the world was against him.

“But we know the talent he has, we knew about his commitment because if you show the kind of commitment Brendan has over the last couple of years, to stick at it through all that, you know you have a good one on your hands.

“Brendan, at 23 years of age, is a double Olympian – it’s an incredible achievement, and well deserved. I know some people may have raised an eyebrow when they saw him being selected, but his performance in London was spectacular.”

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