By Michael O’Neill
Friday 13th – lucky for some though not for all but it was an optimistic Team Ireland who set off on Friday for Astana, Kazakhstan where the 2016 AIBA World Championships for women get under way on 19thMay.
As usual there are only 3 women’s weights that allow female boxers to compete in the Olympics – meaning 250 slots for men, only 36 for women though there are in fact another seven weights in Astana with Irish boxers competing in five of the seven weights.
The country’s three Olympic hopes are Cavan BC flyweight Ceire Smith, Bray’s reigning Olympic champion, Katie Taylor and at 75kg, ‘new kid on the block’, Christina Desmond from Cork’s Father Horgan’s club.
Ireland have also medal prospects in Smith, Desmond (who defeated Nouchka Fontijn in Samsun), Dervla Duffy and Kelly Harrington whilst Donna Barr, Moira McElligott and Grainne Walsh are all capable of rising to the occasion and causing an upset.
The seeds for these Championship will follow the normal pattern and thus Katie Taylor and Claressa Shields are expected to be top seeds when the draw is made at the Rixos Hotel in Astana at noon on 18thMay though it is possible that Bulgaria’s Stanimira Petrova (and not London 2012 Golden girl Nicola Adams or Silver medallist from China, Ren Cancan) will head the 51kg rankings.
After her defeat of Taylor at the European qualifying tournament in Samsun last month, many expected Azerbaijan’s Yana Alekseevna to be number one seed but this seems unlikely under the seeding system laid down by the AIBA in its own ‘Technical’ manual. The AIBA has of course ‘torn up’ its own rule book on other occasions most notably for the last Women’s Worlds in Jeju so ‘nothing is impossible’.
The pressure though is now on Alekseevna rather than on Taylor who has dominated the world rankings for the past 10 years and is expected to still be the number 1, in Rio, assuming she qualifies. She needs a ‘top four’ finish in Astana to qualify but could still get to Rio if either or both of Alekseevna and Italy’s Irma Testa take Gold or Silver.
Prior to Samsun Taylor had not lost a competitive International tournament since the Strandja Multi Nations in 2011 when she was deemed to have lost to Bulgaria’s Denitsa Eliseeva. Five years without a loss was a massive achievement and yet from that day until Samsun, Taylor again went another five years without losing. Could the Bray woman do it again, take the titles in Astana and Rio and go another five years undefeated?
Indeed if she takes the coveted World crown in Astana, she will become the first woman in the history of the sport to win six successive titles and in the process and IF she retains the 60kg belt she first claimed in New Delhi in 2006 she’ll not only qualify for Rio 2016 but match Cuba’s Felix Savon (1986 to 1997) as the only boxers to claim six in a row.
“We are living in thrilling times for women’s boxing, and the 2016 AIBA World Championships will once again raise the profile of this incredible sport around the world,” said AIBA President Dr Ching-Kuo Wu. “We are both fortunate and hugely proud to have iconic champions, young talents and inspirational figures taking part in Astana, and the city of Astana is ready to begin another sporting journey by which future tournaments can be measured. I am confident we will experience an amazing event in a country with a longstanding boxing tradition”.
Ireland’s Katie Taylor and India’s Mary Kom will both be chasing a record sixth World Title in Astana, with American Claressa Shields, Britain’s Olympic champion Nicola Adams and Chinese rival Ren Cancan also among the favourites for gold. Among the 73 nations represented by a record 326 boxers, Jordan, Mozambique and Sierra Leone will be represented for the first time in the competition’s history.
Billy Walsh who has masterminded so many Irish Golden moments in the past is now in Team USA’s corner in Astana but Ireland has one of the world’s outstanding Technical coaches in Zuari Antia. Ironically there could be Ireland v USA ‘match ups’ in Astana (eg: Taylor vs Mikaela Mayer; Smith vs Ginny Fuchs and/or Desmond vs Claressa Shields) or later at the final Men’s World qualifier in Baku in June.
Whatever happens in Astana, in Baku or in Rio, one thing is for sure and that is that close friends Antia and Walsh will remain ‘best of friends’ as they have been since the Georgian came to Ireland many moons ago and with Walsh put Ireland on the world boxing map. Walsh’s departure for pastures new – in no small measure due to the IABA stalling on a new contract – has opened up new opportunities for USA boxing but thanks to Antia, the country remains in a ‘safe pair of hands’.
Neighbours GB Boxing has selected five women to compete. The women that have been selected in the three Olympic weight categories are Nicola Adams (51kg flyweight), Chantelle Cameron (60kg lightweight) and Savannah Marshall (75kg middleweight).
Adams has already qualified for Rio 2016 by winning the European Continental Qualifying event in Turkey in April; Cameron and Marshall both need to finish in the top four in their weight class to book a place at Rio 2016.
Seventy three nations represented by 345 boxers have registered to compete in the 9th edition of the AIBA World Women’s Elite Championships.
48kg: Donna Barr (Twin Towns)
51kg: Ceire Smith (Cavan BC)
54kg: Dervla Duffy (Mulhuddart BC)
57kg: Moira McElligott (St Michael’s Athy)
60kg: Katie Taylor (Bray BC)
64kg: Kelly Harrington (Glasnevin)
69kg: Grainne Walsh (Sparticus)
75kg: Christina Desmond (Fr Horgan’s)
Team Manager: Anna Moore
Coaches: Zuari Antia, Eddie Bolger, Pat McDonagh, Gerry Storey
You will find the Championships schedule here : http://worldboxing2016.kz/en/chempionat-2016
AIBA Astana Preview video : http://www.dailymotion.com/aiba
AIBA Women’s World Rankings May 2016 http://www.aiba.org/rankings-2/
AIBA qualification system for Rio 2016: http://iaba.ie/site3/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Rio2016QualificationSystem-Boxing-2.pdf