As the National Boxing Team head to 2020 Tokyo Olympics, Kenyan fans are asking who among the four qualified boxers will equal the record of former professional boxer Robert Wangila Napunyi?
Wangila was the first African pugilist to win a gold medal at the 1988 Seoul Olympics in South Korea where Kenya emerged as the top African nation with a total of nine medals in five gold, two silver and two bronze medals.
Out of the nine medals at the Seoul Games, two medals were won by the National Boxing Team, popularly referred to as ‘The Hit Squad’ with a bronze medal coming from middleweight Chris Sande.
Kenya had taken eleven boxers to the games after emerging as Africa champions in the 1987 All African Games and two reached the medal bracket in Napunyi and Sande.
The eleven were flyweight Maurice Maina, flyweight Anthony Ikegu, bantamweight Steve Mwema, featherweight John Wanjau, lightweight Patrick ‘Mont’ Waweru, light welterweight David Kamau, welterweight Robert Wangila Napunyi, light middleweight Mohammed Orungi, middleweight Sande(Chris), light heavyweight Joseph Akhasamba, heavyweight Harold Obunga and super heavyweight Chris Odera.
The four boxers heading to the Tokyo Games are Captain and 2015 Africa Boxing Championships lightweight gold medalist Nick Okoth, Africa Zone Three super heavyweight gold medalist Elly Ajowi, Commonwealth Games flyweight bronze medalist Christine Ongare and national welterweight champion Elizabeth Akinyi.
In other words, Kenya will be represented by two male and two female boxers at the Olympics.
“We need these boxers to give us something better than the 1988 squad,” said James Mwangi, an ardent boxing fan.
Another fan Hellen Akinyi told Standard Sports from Kisumu that the four boxers need to reach the medal bracket after the two international exposures.
However, despite displaying confidence to reach the medal bracket after their participation in the Konstantin Korotkov Memorial International Boxing Championships in the city of Khabarovsk in Russia and in the Africa Zone Three Boxing Championships in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, they still have an enormous task to equal Napunyi’s record.
Napunyi knocked out Frenchman Laurent Boudouni in the welterweight finals to crown himself as the first African to win a gold medal at the Olympics before he joined the paid ranks in the United States of America.
Napunyi knocked out the Frenchman within the first 44 seconds of the second round of the welterweight fight on October 1, 1988.
Prior to Seoul Olympics, Napunyi had won all his invitational fights and went ahead to win a gold medal at the 1987 All African Games in Nairobi before he boarded a plane to South Korea to continue with his successful exploits.
In a rush to equal Napunyi’s unmatched record, the quartet were involved in aforementioned international championships believed to have given them enough exposure to reach Napunyi’s measure.
In the Kinshasa Championships, it was only Ajowi who won a gold medal and Okoth a silver medal while Ongare and Akinyi won bronze medals.
In Russia, both Ajowi and Okoth won bronze medals and the two female boxers finished fifth in their respective weight categories.
Can their performance in the two competitions give them hope of winning the second gold medal after Napunyi’s though none of them has mentioned the prospects of clinching a gold medal at the Olympics?.
Ajowi was the only boxer who showed the confidence of overcoming European boxers at the games saying there was nothing special in European boxers as they are beatable.
“These Europeans are beatable and there’s nothing special in them. The Russian Championships has given us good exposure on how to cope with their exploits and ultimately beat them in order to reach the medal bracket. We are determined to do it this time round,” Ajowi told Standard Sports.
On his part, Okoth said ” We have had good training sessions both in Kenya and Russia and we are ready to give our best at the Olympics. We have enough experience to do what our predecessors had done before”.
Ongare is ready to repeat what she did at the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, Australia when she won a bronze medal at the games.
“The two tournaments has given me what I required to improve on my experience in order to be the first Kenyan female boxer to win a medal at the Olympics since the games was open to female boxers,” she said.
“My experience at the then Commonwealth Games comes in handy and I will not let Kenya down,” Ongare added.
On her part, Akinyi who has never taken part in any international championships beyond Africa is equally confident of making some impact in the games.
Like Ongare, she also aims to become the first female boxer to win an Olympic medal within the female championships.
“Yes, it is true, I have never participated in any international championships beyond Africa but I’m determined to do my best in Japan and shock the doubting Thomases,” she said upon her arrival from Russia.
The Russian Championships was her first international assignment outside Africa where she finished fifth in the female welterweight championships.