TOKYO (Reuters) -Boxers from Britain and Ireland powered into the semi-finals at the 2020 Olympics on Friday, securing bronze medals at the very least, as their pugilist siblings roared them on from the stands at a spectator-less arena.
Top-seeded British welterweight Pat McCormack took a split-decision win over Uzbek Bobo-Usmon Baturov after suffering a cut over the eye in the final round, his opponent throwing everything at his head including “the kitchen sink”.
“I’ve always dreamed about getting a medal at the Olympics,” the 26-year-old said. “But now it’s time to change the colour.”
McCormack, who wore a gold-coloured mouth guard, said it helped to have his twin brother, Luke, rooting for him in the arena along with their other team mates.
“I can hear them all,” he said.
Luke McCormack will fight in the round of 16 in the lightweight category on Saturday. The twins plan to go professional after the Tokyo Olympics.
Fellow Briton Ben Whittaker also celebrated, shedding tears of joy after narrowly beating Brazil’s Keno Machado in the light heavyweight class in the quarter-final to guarantee himself a medal.
“I’ve been saying every time I’ve fought that a bronze is nothing, a silver is nothing, but when you do get that feeling (of winning a medal), you can’t help it, the emotion came out of me,” a jubilant Whittaker told reporters.
“I was crying, bogies were flying everywhere. I was trying to keep as calm as I could but I couldn’t help it.”
Ireland went two-for-two on Friday with lightweight world champion Kellie Ann Harrington and welterweight Aidan Walsh advancing.
Walsh’s sister Michaela was in the stands as he jumped up and down to celebrate his split-decision win over Mauritian Merven Clair.
“It’s incredible, it’s amazing,” Aidan Walsh said of being assured a medal. “It’s something I’ve dreamed of since I was no age.
“After the final bell you’re just looking for confirmation from anybody (about a win),” said the Belfast native, adding he had glanced up to look for Michaela, who competed in the featherweight category in Tokyo.
Walsh will meet McCormack in the semi-finals on Sunday.
Top-seeded Harrington had a more comfortable victory over Italy’s Rebecca Nicoli in the preliminaries and took time to hail the performance of Ireland’s rowers after they won a first Olympic gold medal both in the sport and in Tokyo.
“It was fantastic,” Harrington, a flagbearer for Ireland, said.
“We are a small country but we are a mighty team. We all get behind each other – it doesn’t matter what sport.”
Earlier in the week, Irish featherweight Kurt Walker delivered a stunning upset when he beat world champion Mirazizbek Mirzakhalilov of Uzbekistan in the preliminaries.
In the last bout of the day, Rio gold medallist Julio Cesar La Cruz of Cuba crawled to the semi-final after a tough bout against Havana-born Enmanuel Reyes Pla, who defected to Spain.
La Cruz, nicknamed “La Sombra”, or “The Shadow” for his distinctive defensive style, won his gold in Rio in the light-heavyweight class but is competing as a heavyweight in Tokyo.
(Reporting by Chang-Ran Kim;Editing by Peter Rutherford and Pritha Sarkar)