Joyce secures Olympic qualification

SportBy Sean McGoldrick
David Oliver Joyce celebrates after beating Volkan Gokcek, Turkey, in their Men's Lightweight 60kg Box-Off bout
David Oliver Joyce celebrates after beating Volkan Gokcek, Turkey, in their Men's Lightweight 60kg Box-Off bout

David Oliver Joyce finally reached the promised land when he qualified for the Rio Olympics in Samsun, Turkey on Sunday afternoon.

Four years ago at the World championships in Baku the St Michael's Athy lightweight was within eight seconds of qualifying for the London Games in 2012 only for disaster to strike.

He was harshly penalised for what the referee perceived to be a foul; the point he was docked meant that his Indian opponent won the bout by a point.

Had it finished level Joyce would have won it on countback and boxed in the Olympics.

He contemplated retiring from boxing but was enticed back into the sport via the new AIBA pro series.

He didn't qualify for the Rio Olympics via that route but finally got a break – in Turkey and against a Turkish opponent!

But fortune favours the brave and conscious of the fact that a slow start probably cost him victory in the semi-final on Friday, Joyce got the nod from two of the judges after round one.

But the Turk Volkan Gokcek responded well and won round two on all three judges cards. This left the fight delicately balanced. It was level on two judges' cards with the Turk ahead on one card.

However, facing the most important three minutes of his boxing career Joyce - who is a cousin of Joe Ward who has already qualified for the Olympics -produced what was required and won the round on all three judges' cards.

It mattered little that he won on a majority 2-1 decision – 29-28, 29-28, 28-29 – the margins are invariably tight in these fights. What mattered was that his hand was raised and he had made the Olympics.

His victory means that Ireland are now guaranteed six boxers at the Rio Olympics. Joyce and Brendan Irvine qualified in the last 24 hours while Paddy Barnes, Michael Conlan, Ward and Steven Donnelly had already booked their places.

Even if no other Irish boxer makes it to Rio the fact that six have qualified means that Ireland has equalled their biggest ever representation in boxing at the Olympics since the qualifying system was introduced.

Ireland also had six boxers at the Barcelona Olympics but the qualifying process was much less demanding then.

Earlier, it was business as usual for Olympic champion Katie Taylor in Samsun today when she comfortably beat Bulgaria's Svetlana Staneva in a box off for third place.

After her loss to Yana Alekseevna all eyes were on the Bray lightweight. In terms of her natural ability she was a better boxer than the Bulgarian who lost in the semi-final to 18-year-old Italian Irma Testa.

But this fight was a mental challenge for Taylor as Friday's defeat was her first since 2011 and her first in a significant tournament since 2006 when, as in Turkey, her father Pete was not in her corner.

She responded magnificently to the challenge, controlling the fight. By the end of the third round she had essentially won the contest after getting the nod 10-9 from all three judges in each of the three rounds up to that point.

The scoring was odd to put it mildly in the last round; one judge gave the round to the Bulgarian; one judge voted it 10-8 in favour of Taylor while the third judge gave Katie the round 10-9. It didn't matter in the overall context of the fight as Taylor cruised to a unanimous 3-0 win (39-37; 40; 35, 40-36)

The win eases the pressure on Taylor ahead of the World championships in Kazakhstan where she must reach the semi-final in order to secure qualification for the Rio Olympics where she hopes to defend her 60kg title which she won in London.

This win means that Taylor could automatically qualify for Rio regardless of how she performances at the World championships next month.

The final between Alekseevna and Testa was an incredibly tight contest with two of the judges marking it level 38-38 each. The other judge gave it to the Azeri boxer and she got the verdict on the nod of the other two officials.

So in the event of Alekseevna securing a place in the semi-final of the 60kg category at next month's World championships in Astana then Taylor will go to the Olympics regardless of how they fare in Astana.

Of course, Taylor will be aiming for a record sixth consecutive World title in Kazakhstan and a place in the semi-final at the championships will be sufficient to guarantee her a place at the Rio Olympics regardless of how today's fight goes.

But this victory is a sort of insurance policy for Taylor particularly in the event of the AIBA not using seeding as happened at the last World championships in South Korea in 2014.

So even though Taylor remains the number one ranked lightweight in the world she could be conceivably drawn against Alekseevna in the first round in Astana. But in terms of Olympic qualification this doesn't matter now.