Okoth over the moon after sealing Olympics ticket
“This is why they call me Commander! I am a corporal in the Kenya Defence Forces but in the ring, I am the Commander.”
Those were the words of team skipper Nick Okoth after he became the first Kenyan boxer to qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
The momentous occasion was realised on Wednesday night after Okoth beat Uganda’s Isaac Masembe in the semi-finals of the featherweight category in the ongoing African qualifiers at the International Expo Centre, Dakar, Senegal.
Okoth, who turns 37 next Tuesday, is the oldest of the ‘Hit Squad’ team of eight men and five women that travelled to Senegal two weeks ago, and he has led by example.
By reaching last night’s final, he earned a direct ticket for the games planned for July 24 to August 9.
“I knew it was a do-or-die. At almost 37, I am aware it was going to be my last opportunity.
I thank God for helping me realise my dream of returning to the Olympics,” said Okoth, who last featured at the games 12 years ago in Beijing, China.
He added: “I came close to qualifying for the 2016 edition, but close is not good enough.
I want to thank everyone from the officials, coaches, my fans and above all God for making this possible.”
Okoth was on an all-out attack in the first two rounds. His heroics were reflected in the scores as he earned 10 points from all the judges in the first round against all nine for the Ugandan.
In the second round, four judges lifted a 10 on him? with the fifth giving him nine.
He was not that good in the final round where all the five judges carded him nine while the Ugandan had 10 points. However, by that time, he had already done enough.
But it was not all smiles on Wednesday as three other Kenyan pugilists failed to secure the automatic ticket to Tokyo after tasting defeats in the semis.
They will now have to contest the third place play-off which will be enough to hand them a ticket to Tokyo, if they win.
Christine Ongare lost to third seed Rabab Cheddar from Morocco while Elizabeth Akinyi also saw her semi-final bout end in defeat against Moroccan Bel Ahbib Oumayma in the welter category. Akinyi blamed the defeat on a shoulder injury.
In the men’s heavyweight, Elly Ajowi lost to Morocco’s Younes Baala on a unanimous decision.