Threat to Sykes' Down Under dream

By Phil Hay Gary Sykes' hopes of qualifying for the 2006 Commonwealth Games are under threat after decorated Liverpool amateur Stephen Smith added his name to the featherweight ranks.

The Cleckheaton boxer looked certain to travel to Melbourne with the England squad next March after establishing himself as the country's leading fighter at 57kgs with victory in this year's ABA Championships.

Sykes also won a featherweight box-off in London before Christmas and turned out for England last month on the undercard of Amir Khan's final amateur bout against Mario Kindelan.


But Smith's decision to move up in weight has caused a selection problem

for national coach Terry Edwards.

Smith is a former National Schools and Junior ABA champion, and he matched Sykes' box-off achievement by topping the field at 54kgs in December.

The Rotunda youngster was second in the English bantamweight rankings behind ABA champion Nick McDonald, who won a high-profile meeting between the pair at an early stage of the national competition,

but his decision to join the featherweights could now secure him a trip to Melbourne.

Smith already boasts international experience, and this autumn's ABA Championships, which are being held early to accommodate the Commonwealth Games, is likely to decide the fate of both fighters.

Sykes' trainer Keith Tate said: "The ABA had implemented a points system

and we assumed that Gary winning both the box-offs and the ABA Championships would guarantee him a place in the Commonwealth squad.

"But everything is uncertain again because Smith's moved up to featherweight, and I know he's highly rated by Terry Edwards.

"I think Gary's earned his selection already but I have a feeling that this is going to come down to the next ABA Championships later this year.

"It seems like they're moving the goalposts and I'll feel sorry for Gary if he doesn't get the opportunity. He's had a great year."

Sykes' appearance in Bolton last month, where Khan avenged his Olympic final defeat by beating Kindelan over four rounds, ended in a creditable 16-9 defeat to Cuban southpaw Eddy Flores.