Anthony Ogogo relieved to finally book his Olympic place
It's been a long, hard road to London for Anthony Ogogo, and the Lowestoft boxer has no intention of wasting his opportunity. MARK ARMSTRONG reports
Anthony Ogogo's Olympic dream was hanging by a thread.
Trailing by six points going into the final round of his European qualifier quarter-final bout against Georgian Jaba Khositashvili, the Lowestoft boxer knew he was going to have to mount the kind of comeback that would even make Chelsea blush following their exploits in the Champions League against Barcelona.
Having undergone six months of gruelling rehabilitation work to overcome the shoulder surgery he underwent in October the 23-year-old couldn't believe he had allowed himself to get in this position. Only a place in the final of the European qualifier would be enough to secure his Olympic place and Ogogo knew the following three minutes would not only shape his London 2012 destiny – it would shape his whole career.
Having become a firm friend of Mr Adversity during his short career so far, Ogogo did the only thing he knew how – he came out fighting.
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'My mind was absolutely racing – I just knew I had to give it everything that I could to claw it back,' he said. 'I just kept thinking about all the sacrifices that I had made to get here and I was throwing it all away. Literally, everything my coach told me not to do I was doing! I was six points down but I got caught by a couple of sucker punches at the start of the third round which meant I was eight points behind.
'The referee was giving me absolutely nothing as well. He (Khositashvili) was very dirty and every time I was getting on top he was grabbing me and pulling my neck down. I knew that I was in trouble.
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'I was just punching away and I hit him with a couple of great shots late on and it was enough to give me the win on countback. It was a great occasion although I had boxed terribly.'
Despite delivering, by his own admission, a poor performance, Ogogo was through and his Olympic dream was still alive. Should he go on to win gold in three months time it is undoubtedly a bout that he will look upon as a turning point.
'I had got too caught up in the occasion of it all and what it meant for me – I didn't box my fight and it almost cost me,' admitted Ogogo.
To anyone outside the Ogogo camp the victory claimed by the skin of his teeth suggested it was fated that he would appear at the London Olympics.However, the Triple A fighter's poor display had left him racked with self-doubt – he knew he might not be so fortunate next time.
'Once you come through a fight like that then you have to finish off the job. But my confidence was really low after the quarter-final – I had boxed really poorly, it really was a terrible performance,' he said.
'It really knocked me for six and to be honest it upset me. I couldn't believe that I had come so close to throwing it all away with one bad performance.'
Belarus' Vitali Bandarenka stood in his path in the semi-final, a boxer who had showed in the tournament that he was more than capable of destroying Ogogo's Olympic ambition.
However, Ogogo was not about to make the same mistake twice and produced the kind of assured performance you would expect of an Olympian, winning 14-7. A place at the Olympics was finally his.
'It's what I've been dreaming about – it's the best thing that I've ever done before without doubt,' he said. 'It's a major achievement – it's been such a rough ride but I'm finally there.
'It's a relief more than anything – I haven't got to rush myself now and I can start to enjoy my boxing more. It's not a race against time like it was because of my shoulder.'
Most mere mortals would at least enjoy achieving the goal he had set himself for at least 24 hours. Instead, Ogogo waited a full 10 minutes before thinking about a gold medal dangling around his neck come August. It is perhaps this kind of focus that makes it such a possibility.
'It was kind of funny really because about 10 minutes after I had won the semi-final my thoughts immediately turned to the Olympics,' said Ogogo, who pulled out of the final of the qualifying event against Turkey's Adem Kilicci as a precaution after feeling a slight pull in his shoulder. 'It's weird how your mind can just alter so quickly. All I've been thinking about over the last six months is qualifying, but as soon as that was taken care of I was thinking about the next step.
'All I'm thinking about now is getting that gold medal at the Olympics. I know that I've got to improve still – I don't want that quarter-final to happen again.'
Ogogo has been taken aback by the reaction of people to his latest achievement. Quite apart from making the people of Lowestoft proud, two-time world super-middleweight champion Carl Froch tweeted his congratulations. However, it was a message from a former Norwich City star that really made Ogogo's day.
'I didn't look on Twitter or Facebook whilst I was out there because I just wanted to be focused on the goal I had. When I had qualified though I had a look and I had so many 'well done' messages.
'My favourite one was from Darren Huckerby – I didn't even know that he followed me on Twittter. It meant a lot to get a message from someone like that because he is someone that I've always looked up to. It gave me a big smile. The support I've had from everyone has been absolutely fantastic. I just hope that I can make everyone even more proud in London – that's what it's all about.'
Ogogo has had the luxury of a week off following his travails in Trabzon, but by Monday he will be back at the English Institute of Sport in Sheffield plotting his path to Olympic gold. The real work starts here.
'I've now got to let my body recover from making the weight for this tournament and just recover from what I've been putting my body through recently,' he said.
'I'm back in Sheffield next week and we will look at the training programme. I know there's going to be quite a few training camps coming up, which can be more exhausting than tournaments. No-one wants to let anyone get a psychological edge on them so you have to be on top of your game.
'I've got three months of hard training ahead of me to get in the best possible shape of my life. I've not been boxing anywhere near my best and I've got three months to get my shoulder and my body completely right to enable me to perform.'
Ogogo's Olympic dream is very much on.