Boxing: Leeds’s own Asfaq sets sights on gold in Rio

Qais Ashfaq.

Qais Ashfaq.

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Holt Park boxer Qais Ashfaq is aiming to go one better than his hero Amir Khan and claim a gold medal in Rio. Lee Sobot reports.

LEEDS’ British NO 1 Qais Ashfaq can vividly remember his inspiration as his fighting career began.

An 11-year-old Ashfaq was taken to see a 17-year-old Amir Khan just weeks after he had qualified for the 2004 Athens Olympics as Great Britain’s sole representative in boxing.

The Bolton ace went on to take a lightweight silver before embarking on a glittering professional career.

Sparkling achievements – but goals confident Ashfaq says he can not just match but better by winning Rio 2016 bantamweight gold.

Holt Park-based Ashfaq still has to qualify for this summer’s eagerly-awaited Games in South America but the 22-year-old has leading prospects as Britain’s no 1 amateur bantamweight boxer boosted by a fine 2015.

The former Prince Henry’s Grammar School pupil took bronze at the summer’s European Games in Baku and bettered that achievement by then taking silver at the European Amateur Championships in Samokov.

Many felt the bantamweight was also robbed of potential glory in the end of year World Championships in Doha where European Games champion Bakhtovar Nazirov got the judges verdict in a controversial preliminary round bout.

But a rapidly developing Ashfaq is quietly confident of having the last laugh on the biggest stage yet in Rio where he hopes to follow the example of a British star he has admired since he was 11 years old.

Amir Khan’s Olympic silver medal picture hangs from the wall at the English Institute Of Sport in Sheffield where Ashfaq trains – and he hopes that an even more impressive photo of himself will eventually follow.

Sat ringside at the EIS after another dedicated morning work out, Ashfaq told the YEP: “To win a gold medal would be amazing and what dreams are made of.

“It’s all I’ve wanted since I first started boxing at eight years old.

“I remember seeing Amir Khan when I think I was 11 or 12 years old, I’d had about three or four fights and I remember walking to the gym and my coach showed me him and said he’s the only person to qualify for the Olympics just from up the road.

“Obviously I am from Leeds and he’s only an hour and a half away at Bolton.

“He said ‘if he can do it, you can do it’ and since that day I have been working hard, I’ve been striving and I’ve got where I am now.

“Obviously he was wanting the same result that I am, back in the day when he was in the Olympics.

“Since he did it, I know I can do it myself but go one step further and win that gold medal.”

April’s European Qualifying Event in Istanbul is now Ashfaq’s next big date with destiny with the boxer also sizing upcoming tournaments in Hungary and Germany in between a World Series of Boxing bout against Mexico at York Hall on Thursday, February 18.

Ashfaq intends to continue making a name for himself after a fine 2015 that could have been better still.

“Last year was mixed because it was probably the best year I’ve had in terms of medals and stuff,” said Ashfaq.

“But there were a lot of fights where a lot of people thought I had won, everyone thought I had won but I didn’t get it.

“That’s boxing for you, especially when you are boxing world champions.

“Then in the World Championships against the Russian who was the European champion it was the same sort of thing but I am building my own name now.

“The more I box and the more I box the top kids and take them to the limit, the more the judges and the referees will see me fight and take a like to me.

“Hopefully that will get better but first I’ve got to qualify for the Olympic Games and then in the Olympic Games they can’t do that when the world is watching.

“Hopefully I’ll go out there and win that gold medal.”

“In early February I have got a tournament in Hungary and then I have got the WSB against Mexico at home on the 18th.

“In March I might be going to a new tournament in Germany and then at the end of March/beginning of April I have got the qualifiers in Turkey in Istanbul with one at each weight.”

“Hopefully I will go there and qualify because the main thing is to qualify for the Olympic Games.

“The ones before the qualifiers are just warm-ups – which keep me active, busy and sharp.

“But the qualifiers are the main priority right now because it’s all about the Olympics.”

Ashfaq will be 23 by the time he hopes to board the plane to South America and even now the Leeds boxer is confident what will be next; turning pro.

Leeds already has one professional making huge waves in a bid to become world champion in Josh Warrington and Ashfaq fully intends to be next.

“For me, after Rio I would definitely go pro,” he said.

“That’s another dream since I started boxing – to go and win world titles so I’ll definitely turn pro after the Olympics.”

After bagging an Olympic gold is the plan – after which Ashfaq then hopes to also emulate Khan in gaining a huge following in a professional career.

“That would be amazing,” said Ashfaq. “Obviously there is a big Asian community round my way and especially in the pro game it’s about putting bums on seats.

“It’s a lot more of a business.

“Hopefully all of the community get behind me and I’ll be able to sell enough tickets to be at the big shows and move on to win the world titles.

“First it’s about the Olympics and as long as I keep training hard, as long as I keep doing what I am doing, then I know for a fact that I can get there.

“I’m 100 per cent sure I’m going to be there.”