Ashfaq is ready to make it well worth long wait

Sheffield-based boxer Qais Ashfaq.
Sheffield-based boxer Qais Ashfaq.
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Qais Ashfaq is determined not to waste his Olympic opportunity four years after suffering the bitter disappointment of missing the greatest show in his home country.

The Leeds boxer will carry the hopes of the British flag in the bantamweight division in Rio and believes he has the skills to floor any other in the draw.

Those hopes carry more expectation following the Olympic glory of fellow Yorkshireman Luke Campbell in London four years ago.

Campbell beat Ashfaq to selection for the home Olympics and went on to become a part of Britain’s most successful Games for over 100 years.

Then just 19, Ashfaq would have been a baby on the world stage.

But fast forward four years, and the 23-year-old holds European and Commonwealth silver medals and a belief that he can mix it with the most powerful on the planet.

“Now it’s my time,” Ashfaq told The Yorkshire Post.

“I feel like the wait has done me the world of good and I am ready to perform on the big stage now.

“I was still a junior really and still in the youth. I didn’t have the experience and I wasn’t physically strong enough to go to the Olympics in 2012.

“The four years have matured me. I have got out and experienced the world and I’m a better boxer.”

Few can have arguments over a selection decision when the victor becomes one of just 15 British boxers to win a gold medal at the Olympics.

There was no bitterness from Ashfaq’s camp, too, just a realisation that his time would come.

Ashfaq added: “I was disappointed personally but for the team, they always had me earmarked for 2016 anyway.

“I was always going to be disappointed because I wanted to push the barriers and see if I could get there but they made the right decision, Luke Campbell went and won the gold medal so I can’t complain.”

Ranked ninth in the world, the Leeds fighter will be an underdog in a weight category traditionally dominated by Cubans.

The Central American country has taken five gold medals in the last 50 years, while British fighters have only won gold on two occasions with Henry Thomas’s 1908 glory adding to Campbell’s of 2012.

But the size of the task is not fazing Ashfaq. Indeed, nothing other than losing worries him, not even the historically mystifying judges decisions that so often cause ignominy.

“Judges are judges, you need a but of luck everywhere you go,” the southpaw added. “In London, there were some fights that the lads should have got but didn’t. That’s just the judging. Boxing is one of those sports where you don’t worry about anything in the ring. The only thing you do worry about is the result obviously because you want to win.

“Mine is one of the toughest categories, there are some good kids in it. But I know I can beat any of them on my day. I have beaten some of the top kids already.

“I know I can adjust in the ring and come forward or counter-punch.

“I’m fast and the strength is coming now I am getting older. I have now got a bit of everything.

“I’ve learned the craft more and I’ve got a lot more experience of fighting. They are the little things that will make the difference.”

British boxing has come a long way since silver medallist Amir Khan was the only representative in Athens 12 years ago.

A giant photo of Khan, whom Ashfaq met as an 11-year-old before 2004 Games, hangs from the wall at the English Institute of Sport in Sheffield where the British squad regularly train and Ashfaq hopes his face will sit proudly next to it for future generations to look on in awe.

The facilities in Sheffield, which include an oxygen-sapping altitude training ring, are a far cry from the setting Ashfaq experienced on his first ring outing, having taken up the sport through the talent-spotting of his uncle.

“It was in Barnsley in some working men’s club,” Ashfaq revealed.

“You’ll laugh at this, I got in the ring, looked around and saw my brother in the far corner.

“As the opponent walked in I remember thinking, ‘what am I doing here? How have I got myself into this?’

“But that’s the process of how I have learned and it’s how I’ve got better and better. As you box more and you win more, your confidence grows.”

Rio can not come soon enough.

Jonathan Brownlee

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