Yafai comes out swinging with Tokyo goal in sight

Yafai comes out swinging with Tokyo goal in sight

19 June 2020 / 13:08

Boxers are students of the school of hard knocks and Galal Yafai is still standing through the adversity of COVID-19. 

The flyweight had just booked his place at the Olympic Games, toppling Russia’s Rasul Saliev at the Road to Tokyo European Qualification Event at the Copper Box Arena. 

But just hours later sparring was suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic with only Yafai and Peter McGrail having time to stamp their tickets to Tokyo. 

A surreal turn of events left the 27-year-old to reflect on his achievement from the safety of his flat in Solihull.  

“For years, I’d been preparing to qualify for the Olympic Games, and then I did it, I was so happy and overwhelmed, and then all of a sudden we went into lockdown,” said Yafai. 

Let my game do the talking 🤫

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“It was pretty tough - I remember I spoke to Rob [McCracken, coach] before my fight and he told me the tournament would be cancelled.

“He told me I was still going to fight and I was going to win and book my place, but then he said we’d have to come back to the event because of how serious the situation is.

“That’s when I knew it was something serious - it was pretty hard to get out of my head before my fight.

“I remember travelling back home and was over the moon - I was so happy as I qualified for the Olympics, as I’d set that objective and ticked that box and wanted to relax.

“I was overwhelmed, and the day I got back lockdown pretty much started and I couldn’t go anywhere, or celebrate with my friends or family, so it was sad and frustrating.”

Yafai has enjoyed a fine amateur career having represented Team GB as a precocious 23-year-old after swapping working at Solihull’s Land Rover factory to the dizzy heights of the Rio Games.

There he beat Simplice Fotsala in a round of 32 bout before losing out to Joahnys Argilagos with a quarter-final spot looming.

It was the Commonwealth Games Down Under where be truly made his mark, however, as he embarked on a thrilling run to the final where he downed India’s Amit Panghal 3-1 on points.

Yafai has fond memories of tasting both the Brazilian samba spirit, and reckons it will only serve him well and the countdown to Tokyo intensifies.

“I was in awe of qualifying for the Olympics in 2016 - I was working in the Land Rover factory and then all of a sudden I was surrounded by all these stars,” he added.

“It was the pinnacle of sport, but I’m quite laid back so I handled it quite well and I really enjoyed the experience.

“Getting the opportunity to do that before Tokyo means I know how to deal with it and I know what to expect now, whereas some people may perhaps be a bit more flustered by it."

GB boxers have kept a tight rein on their weights as the rigours of an intensive training routine at their Sheffield base are exchanged with - in Yafai’s case - Netflix, PlayStation and even cutting his own hair.

#MondayMotivation 💪 . . 📸: @galalyafai

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But Yafai is a meticulous operator and knows all about the importance of discipline, maintaining a strict training regime that includes cycling, running and pumping iron at home.

Yafai is now back in Sheffield and says he has what it takes to follow in the footsteps of previous gold medallists as the clock to Tokyo continues to tick.

“I’ve kept in great shape - my weight’s around about what it would normally be, and I’ve been running and cycling and kept in great shape,” he said.

“Training’s been great and I’ve even trimmed my own hair! The first few times it wasn’t great, but I didn’t really mind as it meant I didn’t have to go and see anyone.

“I returned to training slightly after my teammates as Rob told me I didn’t need to rush back because I’d already qualified, but I just couldn’t wait to get back to sparring, seeing the boys and getting some normality back.

“The postponement of the Games isn’t a bad thing for me - I view it as another year of experience and preparation, as I’m not towards the end of my career.

“I’m looking forward to it immensely, I can’t wait to get out there and I want to come back holding a nice, shiny Olympic gold medal.”