The sleeping Eastern Dragon has awakened, with one breakthrough in boxing after another, since China revived boxing more than two decades ago.
ROAD TO THE OLYMPICS
China’s boxing rode upon a high-speed train on his ascending journey to the Olympus Hill.
In the 2004 Athens Olympics, there were five Chinese boxing athletes who qualified to compete in boxing. Shiming Zou was the only boxer to win a medal and end China’s Olympic boxing medal drought by capturing one bronze. Apart from Zou, the second best was a fighter in the 81kg division who managed to qualify for the quarterfinal.
In the 2005 World Boxing Championships, Zou was crowned the 48kg champion and grabbed the first world amateur boxing gold medal for China, with three other compatriots making it to the last eight.
Two years later, at the 2007 World Boxing Championships, nearly 600 boxers from more than a hundred countries went to Chicago, yet China stood out from the crowd by reaping one gold, four bronze and seven “Olympic tickets”, with nine out of eleven participants cruising to the eighth-finals and seven to the quarterfinals.
As host nation for the 2008 Olympic Games, China was permitted to have six wildcard entries from the world championships. However, the Oriental Giant stood proudly in Chicago as it secured seven passes without a single free ride. This was the most among all the other Asian countries. Next in line was the long-time Asian boxing powerhouse, Thailand, with five. Russia concluded with the most – nine qualifiers while America ended up with six.
Despite the absence of Cuba, a dominating force in the world of amateur boxing, the competition in Chicago was by no means gentle. Both South Korea and Kyrgyzstan, the two Asian nations with a rich boxing tradition, failed to qualify a single fighter. Only 23 out of 80 Asian fighters qualified to participate in the Beijing Olympic Games.
Zou, the reigning champion, cruised to the final with ease and defended his belt with the amazing scores of 15-3, 30-13, 23-6, 22-8, 21-1 and 17-3. It was hard to believe that this was the final score Zou tallied in every fight on his road to the championship in Chicago, yet it was for real. In his six bouts, he outscored his opponents by 20 points in two fights and surpassed the other four with at least 12 in points. Moreover, he hardly lost a round in the entire tournament. That’s devastating; that’s crushing; that’s overwhelming. His opponents spent most of their time slugging air. They were fighting a ghost.
While Zou was a surefire hot favorite in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, China appeared to be ready to reach full blossom, as it reaped four bronze medals in four divisions in Chicago, that is, featherweight, middleweight, heavyweight and super heavyweight.
A total number of five put China right behind the boxing titan Russia in the number of medals collected at the 14th World Boxing Championships.
However, for China, the 2007 World Boxing Championships was merely a rehearsal before the grand pageant. The best was yet to come.
THE OLYMPIC BOOM
China struck gold at home turf during the 2008 Olympic Games with a history-making boxing boom.
On the hot afternoon of Aug 24, 2008, at the Beijing Workers’ Gymnasium, China closed its 51-gold solo Olympic show with two golds, one silver and one bronze in the square ring.
The Asian Giant smashed the triopoly of Cuba, Russia and the United States, any of whom had ruled the tally table in boxing at every Olympics since 1942.
Cuba bagged eight total medals – four silvers, four bronzes, yet no golds. Russia leveled China in golds, but trailed by one silver on the table. The once towering United States ended up with no gold, no silver, but merely a single bronze.
With two golds, one silver and one bronze, China emerged as the new king in the amateur boxing world.
Being the host nation could be a double-edged sword, for the expectation of performing on home soil would be way above the norm and the pressure had to be measured against the boost from the local media, as witnessed by Chinese shooter Li Du’s failure to win the first gold medal of the Games.
Yet, Chinese boxers not only lived up to the hype, but exceeded the high expectations of both the government and media.
China’s light flyweight Shiming Zou launched the bonanza by winning in an unexpectedly easy fashion when the other finalist from Mongolian retired with a shoulder injury that had plagued him before the Games early in the second.
Two hours after Zou’s triumph, the biggest dark horse of the Olympic boxing tournament Chinese light heavyweight Xiaoping Zhang resumed his compatriot’s remarkable feat, doubling the host nation’s boxing golden tally by outpointing Kenny Egan 11-7 in the final.
China’s third finalist – super heavyweight Zhilei Zhang was blocked from winning the third boxing gold medal for his country by the talented Italian Roberto Cammarelle. Although being completely outclassed by his opponent in hand speed, athleticism and ring generalship from the sound of the opening bell while taking several crunching blows to the jaw, the Chinese giant showed heart and admirable resistance against the two-time world champion before being forced to quit in the final round.
Hanati, the World Championships welterweight bronze medalist, finished third for the second time when he was awarded the bronze medal together with Korean Jungjoo Kim at the medal ceremony.
China rang down the curtain on the premier boxing tournament with two golds, one silver and one bronze, ruling the roost in gold medal tally.
Boxing in China was to come of age.
Zhenyu Li, a contributing columnist for some of the world’s leading boxing publications, is a member of the International Boxing Research Organizations (IBRO).