Irish Olympic boxers on celebrity hunt

Decorated Olympians beware: Ireland's boxers are not only chasing medals in London, they are after a prized photograph with you as well.

Eurosport

Light-flyweight Paddy Barnes caused a stir at last week's opening ceremony when he walked around the track holding a homemade cardboard sign bearing his Twitter address and declaring he was 'open for sponsorship'.

The Belfast-man, a bronze medallist in the 2008 Games, then proceeded to corner multiple grand slam winning tennis player Novak Djokovic and Jamaican sprinters Usain Bolt and Asafa Powell, immediately posting photos with the stars on Twitter.

Barnes, who has also ticked Tyson Gay off his list, even tweeted Powell the picture and with tongue firmly in cheek, said the Jamaican had "tortured" him for it at the ceremony and that he hoped he would hang it in his room.

Bantamweight John Joe Nevin, the first of Ireland's five male boxers to progress to the quarter-finals, got in on the act on Wednesday, telling reporters about who he had met and revealing a soft spot for the most famous sisters in tennis.

"I met Ryan Giggs and Craig Bellamy, and they have now seen John Joe Nevin of course," said Nevin, who met another hero, Rafael Nadal, at the Beijing games.

"I'm just hoping to see the two Williams sisters and get a picture with them."

Asked what it was about Venus and Serena that he liked so much, Nevin suddenly turned coy.

"I won't say that in the newspapers," he said.

Twice a bronze-medallist at the World amateur championships, the only Irish fighter to do so, Nevin advanced to the quarter-finals, beating Kanat Abutalipov of Kazakhstan 15-10 in the cagiest fight of the session.

Nevin, a member of Ireland's travelling community, will square up against Oscar Fierro Valdez on Sunday after the Mexican upset fourth-seeded world amateur championship bronze medallist Anvar Yunusov of Tajikistan in a 13-7 win.

Nevin was under no illusion of what will happen if he is not on his game.

"On a good performance I can go all the way. On a bad performance, anyone can beat me," the Irishman said.

Top seeded Cuban bantamweight Lazaro Alvarez Estrada beat future US professional fighter Joseph Diaz Jr. to advance to the quarter-finals in the best fight of the Games so far.

The 21-year-old world amateur champion, possessing one of the longest reaches in the 56 kg division, overcame the American teenager 21-15 in a fight that could have been for Olympic gold had they been in opposite sides of the draw.

Diaz Jr., who said this week that he would turn pro after the Games so he could buy a new house for his unemployed parents, had the Cuban shaken in the first round and justifiably counted himself unlucky to be 4 points behind going into the last.

Estrada, who also beat Diaz Jr. on his way to his first world title last year, was able to pick off the American on enough occasions to convince the judges and his rapid fire combinations will have the rest of the draw worried.

"I felt a lot of pressure, whilst I am the number one seed this is also my first Olympics Games. There is a lot of expectations on me," Estrada told reporters through a translator.

"It was a lot of pressure because there is so many things riding on it and it is something I feel I want to do for my country."

Diaz Jr., who plans to enter professional boxing at super-bantamweight level, said he hoped the Cuban would go on to win the gold, an achievement that eluded the whole of the boxing mad nation four years ago.

After his parents sold t-shirts and washed cars to raise enough money to travel to London with their son, Diaz Jr. was looking forward to have some family time and not having to watch his weight so assiduously.

"We're probably going to have a bit of a vacation now, go out for dinner. Finally I get to eat me some french fries and cheesecakes which I haven't had for a long time," he said.

Estrada next faces Robenilson Vieira de Jesus on Sunday after the Brazilian narrowly beat Russia's Sergey Vodopiyanov 13-11. The winner of their fight will be guaranteed a spot on the medals podium.

Magomedrasul Medzhidov was among the first amateur boxers to sign up to the Olympic governing body's new professional ranks and the gulf between the Azerbaijani and those not so lucky was evident on Wednesday.

World amateur champion Medzhidov, the favourite to take gold in the super-heavyweight category, pummelled Meji Mwanba in his first round bout, knocking the Democratic Republic of Congo fighter down twice before the referee stopped the contest after Medzhidov hit him so hard, his helmet flew out of the ring.

The International Boxing Association (AIBA) are setting up AIBA Professional Boxing, or APB, next year in a to bid to stop boxers leaving the Olympic movement to join the traditional pro ranks and have so far signed up five highly ranked fighters.

It plans to give almost a quarter of available Olympic spots to professional fighters in four years' time, still leaving space for fighters from developing countries, some of whom it held a free two-month training camp for prior to the Games.

However Mwanba, who works as a security guard by day, is not provided with gloves or some of the basic facilities needed to train in his home city of Kinshasa.

At an Olympic qualification tournament in May, he struggled to find a helmet big enough for his head, a mandatory piece of equipment to box. He secured a place in London as part of an AIBA policy to include as many countries as possible.

"My opponent is a professional, he's just boxing all the time, it's his job," the imposing Mwanba, who was nevertheless furious that judges had scored the first round 8 points to 1 in favour of Medzhidov, told reporters through an interpreter.

His coach, Adelard Ibula Masengo, said the country could not pay for enough fighters to travel to Morocco for May's qualification tournament and that the Congo Athletics Federation had to buy five plane tickets to send their four competitors and a coach to London.

Masengo, a former amateur fighter who was in the crowd for the famous 'Rumble in the Jungle' fight of 1974 when Muhammad Ali fought George Foreman in Kinshasa, said the country has some great boxers but can only do so much.

"There is nothing suitable in Kinshasa for training, there is no equipment or anything like that so we just get by."

Mwanba, however, said he would still like to turn professional some day.

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