Boxing

Walsh siblings get ready to chase Olympic dream in Paris

Monkstown feather Michaela Walsh faces France's Mona Mestiaen in Paris today, as she bids to move a step closer to realising her Olympic dream. Picture by Hugh Russell
Neil Loughran

Amateur boxing: Road to Tokyo European Olympic qualifier (coverage live on Olympics.com)

WEST Belfast brother and sister Aidan and Michaela Walsh aim to move a step closer to realising their Olympic dream when the European Tokyo 2020 qualifier resumes in Paris today – 14 months after the plug was pulled due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Younger sibling Aidan had already fought once, beating Estonia’s Pavel Kamanin, before the action was suspended, while Michaela was waiting to make her bow against Frenchwoman Mona Mestiaen.

She will finally get her chance in today's evening session, though it is at Le Grand Dome in Villebon-sur-Yvette rather than the Copper Box Arena in London. Welterweight Aidan, meanwhile, also faces a home favourite when he takes on the talented Wahid Hambli this afternoon

Both must win to keep their hopes alive, with victory guaranteeing two shots at reaching this summer’s Games in Tokyo – a quarter-final and then an Olympic box-off if required.

And although there is an obvious appeal to already being qualified, like Irish team-mates Brendan Irvine and Kurt Walker, Michaela believes the focus required for the qualifier has helped her maintain a competitive edge during a difficult year.

She said: “Part of you would love to have qualified then and for that side of things to be over, but then it’s an added pressure that keeps you on your toes.

“During Covid it was always there in your head ‘I haven’t qualified yet, I still need to keep myself right’. Then when training did resume me and Aidan were ready, we’d been working right the way through lockdown.”

Also in action today are lightweight Kellie Harrington, Aoife O’Rourke and Emmet Brennan. Harrington takes on Poland’s Aneta Rygielska, and victory would set up a quarter-final clash with Maiva Hamadouche (France) or Croatia’s Marija Malenica.

Barring an unlikely run of results, the 2018 world champion looks set for a first Olympic appearance due to her current ranking, which could come into play in the absence of a World qualifier.

Roscommon middleweight O’Rourke, – a European gold medallist in 2019, will be the first Irish fighter between the ropes this afternoon when she faces Bulgaria’s Viktoriya Kebikava.

Dublin light-heavy Brennan is up against Switzerland’s Uke Smalji this afternoon. 

Tomorrow sees George Bates and Kiril Afanasev fly the flag. Lightweight Bates could have his hands full with crafty Azeri Javid Chalibiyev, while St Petersburg-born Afanasev – who needs a semi-final spot to qualify – takes on Spain’s Emmanuel Reyes Pla.

Ireland will have no male boxer at middleweight following Michael Nevin’s shock decision to join the professional ranks rather than pursue a Tokyo 2020 spot. As he had already boxed in the preliminary round, Ireland were unable to call upon a replacement.

At super-heavyweight, the inexperienced Gytis Lisinskas takes the place of Dean Gardiner, who quit boxing to focus on his studies at the end of last year.

Lisinskas faces Bulgaria’s Petar Belberov in the last 16, but needs to reach the semi-finals to qualify.

Belfast flyweight Irvine, despite having already qualified, has the opportunity to get some competitive rounds when he takes on Spain’s Gabriel Escobar Mascuñano in tomorrow’s 52kg quarter-final.

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Boxing