Three-time EU Elite champion David Oliver Joyce realised a lifetime ambition when qualifying for Rio 2016 on the final day of the European Olympic qualifiers in Samsun, Turkey yesterday.
The St Michael’s Athy BC lightweight, at the wrong end of questionable officiating in the Beijing 2008 and London 2012 qualifiers, beat Turkey’s Volkan Gokcek on a split decision in a thrilling box-off between the losing 60kg semi-finalists at the Black Sea port.
Joyce split the judges in his favour in the first, but Gokcek’s counter-punching impressed all three cards in the second to lean the scoring 20-18, 19-19, 19-19 toward the home boxer going into the third and final round.
But Joyce, detonating combination after combination and walking his man down at every opportunity, took the final frame and the 29-28, 29-28, 28-29 verdict that confirms him as an Olympian.
The 29-year-old is one of the great servants of the sport and has paid his dues to Irish boxing at home and abroad over the last 10 years.
“It has always been my dream to box at the Olympics. My granny passed away less than a year again and she always wanted me to become an Olympian,” said Joyce.
“I dedicate this win to my granny. It means the world to me. I’ve been trying since the qualifiers for Beijing in 2007 and for London and have had a few disappointments.
“I’ve been chipping away for years. It was tough today, really tough. It was really down to the third round in the end and he wanted it as well. Today I accomplished my dream.”
Katie Taylor also won convincingly yesterday, the Olympic champion beating Bulgarian southpaw Svetlana Staneva in a box-off for third position by a unanimous decision.
The win didn’t qualify Taylor for Rio. Her last opportunity will be at next month’s World Women’s Championships in Kazakhstan, where she’ll need to finish in the top four.
Outrageously, one judge scored the last round 10-9 against Taylor yesterday and another 10-8 for a 39-37, 40-35, 40-36 verdict.
Brendan Irvine qualified after seeing off Bulgaria’s Daniel Asenov, the current European champion, in the box-off for third place in the flyweight class on Saturday.
Taylor admits she’ll have to improve in Central Asia next month if she’s to defend the Olympic title she won in London in 2012.
“It was a bit strange, to be honest, getting over the disappointment of the semi-finals. I’m going to try and improve over the next few weeks and make things right for the worlds,2 she said.
“She was the fourth southpaw I’ve boxed this week,” added Taylor, who was beaten in the semi-finals by Azeri southpaw Yana Alexseevna, who won gold yesterday.
Six Irish boxers are now through to Rio. The six qualified in the following weights: Barnes (light-fly), Irvine (fly), Conlan (bantam), Joyce (light), Donnelly (welter), and Ward (light-heavy).
Likewise, Ireland will be targeting places in the female, fly, light, and middle and male light-welter, middle, heavy, and super heavy classes in the three remaining qualifiers.
Team Ireland are due home from Turkey via Dublin Airport at 3.35pm today.
Meantime, Gary Russell Jr could meet Belfast’s Carl Frampton later this year after demolishing Dubliner Patrick Hyland in a WBC World featherweight title fight in Connecticut on Saturday night.
Any hopes that Hyland was entertaining of hitting the jackpot at the Foxwoods Casino evaporated after he was dropped three times in the second round by the defending champion, and the fight was stopped.
Tallaght man Hyland, who drops to two defeats in 33 outings after Saturday’s loss, could have been in line for an All-Ireland shot at Frampton if he’d won Saturday.
But he was floored by a combination to the head and body early in the second and went down again under a big right in the same frame.
Referee Danny Schiavone took the Dubliner into protective custody 93 seconds into the second round after he was caught with another combination from the champion.
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