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by MICHAEL BAILEY, London Olympics correspondent
Saturday, August 4, 2012
To a standing ovation and to a nation watching at home, the expression on Anthony Ogogo’s face as he slumped to his knees said everything you needed to know.
The Lowestoft fighter had just heard the news he was desperate to hear – his name in victory in the narrowest fashion possible, against the toughest men’s middleweight fighter he could have come up against at these London Olympics.
Now Ogogo sits just nine minutes of boxing away from becoming an Olympic medallist and the realisation of almost every promise he has made in recent years.
It required a majority verdict to see Ogogo over the line against top seed, 2011 world champion and a man Ogogo’s coach called “a monster”, in Ukraine’s Ievgen Khytrov.
Three rounds left the scores level at 18-18. The countback was level at 52-52. It was left to the five judges to take a moment – which felt like a lifetime – as to who would get their nudge and a wink.
More of them went for Ogogo – 10,000 crammed inside the Excel Arena boxing hall went berserk.
News of an appeal and a few mild controversies came and went. In the end they didn’t matter. Ogogo need not wake from his dream. Few backed him to pip the favourite for gold in his last-16 fight. The fact he did means Germany’s Stefan Hartel awaits in his quarter-final on Monday. Victory not only guarantees a semi-final berth but a bronze medal – although Ogogo is keeping all hopes alive.
“I just wanted to hear the good news,” said Ogogo as he grabbed his breath along with everyone else.
“I was just thinking, ‘Come on – if I get this win I will kick on and hopefully go on and get the gold medal’. I wanted a bit of luck because it was such a close fight, and I think that’s been against me so many times before. So I had that bit of luck and I’m just really happy.”
With the first bell still ringing, both boxers exploded into punches – and the pace rarely dropped during an incredible fight of passion and unrelenting desire.
Ogogo generally produced the quality blows and kept things tight, but he had to withstand a second-round of two nerve-jangling standing counts from referee Jones Kennedy – where a third would have left all hopes shattered.
However Ogogo regrouped, recharged and saw his way through an epic third round backed by a home crowd immersed in Ogogo’s zone, filling every nook and cranny of the boxing hall with ear-shredding noise.
From the stuff of nightmares in recent weeks with the illness of his mother, to becoming an uncle on the same day he won his opening Olympic fight, to his victory on Thursday – Ogogo has experienced the emotions of a lifetime in an London 2012 bubble.
This time he plans to stay in the bubble too, as he prepares to win the medal he promised boxing chief Rob McCracken when he first offered the fighter his GB trial.
He said: “I remember that day – we were all going for a meal for my 21st birthday, and I’m glad I could repay him by getting to here, but I need to get that medal.
“That’s next in my mind – winning that medal. I have put enough effort in, so I hope this is my time.
“My sister’s now got a beautiful baby boy called Sonny – I can’t wait to see him. It has been such an amazing time for the Ogogo family.
“My mum (who suffered a brain haemorrhage) is still the same as she was and it’s going to be a long recovery – everything is a bit hazy but she will know about the win.
“My mum made me the winner. After everything that has happened I could have crumbled in those last few seconds but that gave me the extra strength to get over the finish line.
“Nobody thought I would win that fight – I don’t think even the rest of my team-mates thought I could win it. But I just believed in myself.
“I thought it was probably a countback and I’ve been on the wrong end of them so many times. With what’s gone on with me in the build-up, I needed that. It’s so much sweeter. I will sleep like a baby tonight.”
Khytrov did his bit – offering Ogogo all his luck for the rest of the competition. But now all Ogogo will be concentrating on is those few sessions he once spent sparring with his next opponent.
It feels like it’s Ogogo’s time – and by now we are all dreaming of it coming true.