Amateur boxing is often scarred by chaos and duplicity, with unpredictable draws and dubious officiating, and some great fighters at past Olympic Games have had their dreams ruined. But all seven men and four women in the GB boxing team have reason to hope that, with a favourable draw and a sustained burst of form, they could win a medal in Tokyo. It helps that the new Boxing Task Force, set up by the IOC to run the qualifying events as well as the Tokyo programme, appears to have improved the standard and fairness of judging.
There are also clear boxing reasons for British optimism before the first bell. This squad has a deeper pool of talent than the previous two GB Olympic boxing teams which won five medals at London 2012 and then three at the Rio Games in 2016.
Lauren Price, the Welsh middleweight, arrives in Tokyo as both the world champion and the world No 1. This guarantees her place as the top seed and she and Pat McCormack, who is the No 1 fighter in the men’s welterweight division, are the most likely British fighters to become Olympic champions. At the last world championships in 2019, Price lost a controversial split decision to Nouchka Fontijn, her old rival from the Netherlands, but she appealed against the judging. Her appeal was upheld and Price became world champion. It was a sign of the fine margins separating Price and Fontjin.
At the European qualifying event in Paris earlier this summer, Fontjin lost in the semi-finals to Russia’s Zenfira Magomedalieva, the former world light-heavyweight champion who has moved down a weight category. Magomedalieva looked huge in the ring but the far smaller Price outboxed her comfortably in the final. One of these three women looks likely to win gold and Price, who is so much quicker and more skilful, is the favourite.
McCormack, whose brother Luke is also in the Olympic team, has the best opportunity among the men. He secured his top seeding after beating Andrei Zamkovoi in the final of the European qualifiers. The Russian had beaten him narrowly in the world championships in 2019 but McCormack has improved since then and his obvious skill is backed by some power. Luke is less slick than his accomplished brother and he can sometimes end up looking like a brawler against the awkward stylists. But he is also seriously competitive as a welterweight and the brothers from Washington in the north-east are justifiably ambitious.
Luke McCormack and the other eight British fighters all need a good draw as none of them are among the top four seeds in their division. But both Caroline Dubois, a Guardian columnist at these Games, and Charley Davison are confident they can win medals in, respectively, the lightweight and flyweight categories. Dubois is a prodigious talent and she was unbeatable as a junior. The European qualifiers last month were her first real test as a senior and, in the opening round, she beat the world No 2, Mira Potkonen, with an assured display against her vastly experienced opponent.
Dubois reached the final in Paris, as did Davison. The mother of three young children, Davison has made an impressive comeback after retiring for seven years to start her family. The year-long postponement of the Tokyo Games has clearly helped her and, rather than being a surprise choice, Davison now has a chance to win a medal should she avoid the top seeds in the early rounds.
Karriss Artingstall is the first British female soldier to box in the Olympics and she is a powerful puncher. But she campaigns as a featherweight – the weight category which is the most competitive in both the women’s and the men’s event. Peter McGrail is, alongside Pat McCormack, the most talented male boxer on the GB team, but he faces formidable opposition among the world’s best featherweights.
Ben Whittaker is another gifted boxer, as slick as he is stylish. While he also needs help in the draw, his hopes are boosted by the fact that the light-heavyweight division is not as rich in talent as some of the other categories.
Galal Yafai is the smallest boxer in the men’s team but the flyweight is now a two-time Olympian. That experience boosts his chances but he will have to produce the defining performances of his career to reach the semi-finals.
Cheavon Clarke, at heavyweight, might seem less likely to win a medal than his teammates but he has overcome two brushes with death. He will believe anything is possible – as will his team captain, Frazer Clarke, who has finally fulfilled his dream of fighting at the Olympics. At his best Frazer Clarke can beat most super-heavyweights but he sometimes struggles against lesser opposition. So much will depend on his ability to retain his composure and hold his nerve as he strives to win the Olympic medal he has spoken about for so many years.
Team GB insiders believe they can bring back at least five medals from Tokyo for their squad has depth and experience. But they need some luck and many outstanding performances to make that prediction a stirring reality. They might just do it because, even though they lack the obvious star appeal that Anthony Joshua and Nicola Adams brought to the past two teams, they are collectively the strongest GB squad to arrive at an Olympic Games.