Sandy Ryan’s stunning medal success at the European Games in Baku this week provided a further demonstration of the success of the women’s boxing programme at Great Britain headquarters in Sheffield.
Ryan guaranteed her place on the podium at 64kg with a stunning points win over home favourite Elena Vystropova, a former two-time world medallist and European champion.
The Derby star had claimed a surprise silver medal in her first major senior competition at last year’s World Championships and has now clearly emerged as a prospect for Rio in the lighter 60kg division.
Great Britain coach Dave Alloway said: “Sandy’s record speaks for itself - for her to beat like that proves she has broken through and is now an elite female boxer.
“She is a young athlete who has only been on the programme for a year. We have got some very good quality at 60kg and we gave Sandy the opportunity and she has grabbed it with both hands.”
With Nicola Adams making the women’s flyweight slot her own and Savannah Marshall as yet unchallenged at 75kg, Ryan is set to go head to head with team-mate Chantelle Cameron for the chance to qualify for Rio.
But just over one year ago, few bar the British coaches would have predicted the immediate impact the completely unfazed Ryan would make on top-level competition.
Ryan rose through the programme’s talent-spotting process and fellow coach Lee Pullen believes the “gamble” to give her her big chance at the worlds last year has paid off handsomely.
Pullen said: “We have got a conveyor belt and Sandy has come through from the podium potential programme. We thought she had something about her and she went to the worlds and did well.
“She had something about her. Something we do well is to identify talent early and develop it, but you’re never going to know until they get to the world class arena so we took a gamble with Sandy.
“She has proved she can operate at world class - she has got the right mental attitude and she’s physically stronger from being on the programme. From a coach’s point of view she is a dream to train because she listens and she converts the instructions into practice and that’s thrilling from our point of view.”
Nicola Adams insists she still has room to improve after moving closer to adding a European Games gold medal to her glittering portfolio with a points win over Turkey’s Elif Coskun in Baku.
With temperatures approaching 40 degrees outside the Crystal Hall, Adams turned up the heat inside as she took the fight straight to her opponent and clattered hooks which caught the judges’ eyes.
In the flyweight final Adams will face Poland’s Sandra Drabik, whom she comfortably outpointed on her return from injury at the European Union Championships in Hungary in 2013.
Adams said: “You haven’t seen the best of Nicola Adams - I am never the finished article and there is always something new I can learn.
“I can always be faster, fitter and I can always be stronger and more skilful. By the time we get to the qualifiers for Rio, you’ll be seeing a whole new Nicola Adams.”
The 32-year-old Adams had a testing time last year due to a shoulder operation but has shown every sign this week of returning to the peak powers which swept her to her historic Olympic triumph in 2012.
She set a fast pace from the off against 19-year-old Coskun and was clearly willing to ship a few shots in her quest to put the Turk on the back-foot and establish control.
Once Adams had found her rhythm the result was not in doubt and Adams celebrated the judges’ unanimous verdict with her trademark smile.
She added: “I’m really pleased with that. I’m in the final and I can’t be happier at the moment. I’m loving every minute of it.”
But bantamweight Qais Ashfaq will have to settle for a bronze medal after narrowly losing his semi-final to sharp-punching Dzmitry Asanau of Belarus.
Ashfaq had been expected to overcome his young opponent but Asanau’s accurate left hand posed problems throughout and the Briton could have few complaints about the verdict.
Ashfaq said: “I was feeling a bit fatigued but I will learn from the experience and by the time the Olympics come round I will win that gold medal in Rio.”
Ashfaq now faces an anxious wait for the Thursday final - if Asanau beats Russia’s Bakhtovar Nazarov, Ashfaq will qualify for the World Championships in Qatar later this year, which in turn offer qualification places for the Rio Olympics.
Joe Joyce will not have to overcome Azerbaijani favourite Mahammadrasul Majidov if he is to claim the super-heavyweight gold after his prospective opponent withdrew with an eye injury.
Two-time world champion Majidov, who beat Anthony Joshua to controversially claim the 2011 crown, had been widely expected to meet the big-punching Joyce in the big Friday showdown.
Londoner Joyce faces Frenchman Tony Yoka in his semi-final on Thursday, and if successful will face Russia’s Gasan Gimbatov, who has been given a walkover into the final.
Majidov was cut during his quarter-final win over Ali Demirezen of Turkey and team doctors said it would be unsafe for him to continue.
Coach Mariman Abdullayev said: “Majidov is injured very badly. It is a very bad cut. He is finished in this tournament.”