Rard should be pumped for Olympic bow
Joe Ward finally makes his Olympic debut tonight when he faces Ecuadoran light-heavyweight Carlos Mina (11.15pm Irish time).
The 22-year-old has won silver and bronze medals at the World championship and was crowned European champion in 2011 when he was just 17, but watching the 2012 Games from his home in Moate must have wounded his pride.
Ward betrays little emotion when it comes to boxing but one can only imagine how he felt as he watched Russian Egor Mekhontsev win the light-heavyweight gold medal in London. Months earlier at the Chemistry Cup tournament in Germany he had hammered Mekhonstsev 20-14.
Significantly, though, he did let his guard drop momentarily after he secured his place in Rio by outclassing Elshod Rasulov from Uzbekistan in the semi-final of the World championships in Doha.
In an emotional reaction, Ward declared: "It was great to get the win after all the ups and downs I've had during my career. A lot of people wrote me off but I stuck with it.
"My coach Eddie Bolger, my family, my girlfriend at home and my kids, they motivated me and today I got what I wanted. My dream was to box in the Olympics."
A classy southpaw, Ward is a much more mature boxer now that the 18 year old wonder-kid who missed out in London through a combination of carelessness on his part allied to a woeful judging decision.
At the 2011 World championships in Baku, Ward suffered his first ever defeat at Elite level losing on a countback to an experienced Iranian, Ehsan Rouzbahani - who incidentally was beaten in a preliminary round tie in the 81kg category in Rio on Monday - on a countback.
Ward had a second chance at a Olympic qualifier in the Turkish city of Trabzon in the spring of 2012 but he was the victim of a classic home town decision going down 18-15 to a local fighter Bahram Muzaffer.. Video analysis of the fight revealed that the Irish man should have won by at least ten points.
Ward - seeded fourth in Rio - will carry a lot of hurt into tonight's fight which mightn't be a bad thing because he has a habit of just doing enough to win, which can proved a dangerous approach.
Still, on all known form he ought to advan ce to the quarter finals. Mina qualified for Rio at the American Olympic tournament in Buenos Aires on St Patrick's Day. Otherwise, his most significant achievement was winning the gold medal at the Strandja Memorial tournament in Sofia the previous month.
Mina comfortably beat German light heavyweight Serge Michel in his opening bout in Rio on Saturday.
Prior to travelling to Rio Ward reiterated how much boxing at the Olympic meant to him.
"I have good people around me. They always believed in me and they told me to stick at it and that it would come around and I would qualify. That's what I did and I turned down a lot of big professional offers just to be here.
"This is where all those sacrifices, not to turn professional, come good. I'm representing Ireland at the Olympic Games. It's always been my dream and now I'll be able to say that I've done it. It will be great to sit back and take it all in," said Ward.
Deep down, one suspects, Ward has Olympic medals on his mind and, in particular, a semi-final re-match against Cuban, Julio Cesar La Cruz who beat him in the gold medal fight at the World championships in Doha. But for the moment a win and a place in the quarter-final will suffice.
Meanwhile, the ramifications of Paddy Barnes' shock exit from the Olympic continues to reverberate. It was the first time that an Irish Olympic boxer had failed to win a bout at the Games since Michael Roche bowed out in the first round at the Sydney Games in 2000.
Barnes' frank, but shock revelation afterwards that he failed to make the 49kg weight limit 'every time' during the the seven fight World Boxing series in 2015 undermines the credibility of using the WSB competition as an official Olympic qualifier.
Barnes' team, the Milan based Italia Thunder got around the problem by paying a fine. But in a sport where weights are sacrosanct Barnes' revelation demands an explanation from AIBA, the world governing body.