Michael O’Reilly now just one step from Olympic goal

Michael O’Reilly is one win away from securing his Olympic place in Baku, while Dean Gardiner also kept his Rio dream alive with a surprise victory yesterday.

Michael O’Reilly now just one step from Olympic goal

Portlaoise native O’Reilly marched into the quarter-finals of the final amateur Olympic qualifier last night, claiming a 3-0 unanimous decision over Mongolian Shinebayar Narmandakh.

The world middleweight will book his ticket for Rio with a semi-final place but he first faces a tricky test in the last eight tomorrow against ‘home’ opposition.

While his opponent, Kamran Shakhsuvarly, previously represented Kazakhstan, he now boxes for Azerbaijan and lies in wait for O’Reilly after overcoming Venezuelan Johan Jose Gonzalez Mendez on a split decision yesterday evening.

Shakhsuvarly lost the first round of his bout against Gonzalez Mendez, but tellingly recovered to claim the second and third rounds on the judges’ cards for a 2-1 victory.

While defeat will not kill off either fighter’s qualification chances - as the top five middleweights at the tournament secure a spot at Rio, -whoever loses the bout would be in a precarious position as they need their foe to go on to claim gold.

A semi-final place ensures qualification, but the fifth qualification spot is awarded to whichever ‘lucky loser’ is defeated by the eventual champion.

O’Reilly is the No 1 seed at 75kg, but Shakhsuvarly has home advantage which tends to sway decisions in many international competitions.

The Irish team are also sure to be wary of the prospect of having to rely on their opponent progressing as boxers are often withdrawn from tournaments by their coaches once they have secured their own qualification. The Portlaoise man will also be reluctant to leave his destiny in the hands of the judges considering O’Reilly’s Olympic ambitions were derailed last October when he was the victim of a dubious points loss to Egyptian Hosam Abdin in a World Championship box-off for a place in Rio.

Gardiner’s task is a lot clearer, however, as he must claim gold at super-heavyweight (91+kg). The Clonmel man is now two wins away from that accomplishing that mission after a huge victory over Ukrainian Viktor Vykhryst yesterday.

Gardiner won the opening two rounds on the judges’ cards before losing the final stanza, but he advanced to the semi-finals on a 2-1 decision.

Today is a rest day at the tournament but while O’Reilly will return to action tomorrow, Gardiner will not be back in action until Friday when he takes on Moldova’s Alexei Zavatin.

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