The Rise of Boxing in China Part III: One Breakthrough after Another

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The Rise of Boxing in China Part III: One Breakthrough after Another
Shiming Zou (L) leads China’s boxing team to achieve a series of historical breakthroughs. (Photo by Zhenyu Li)

The sleeping Eastern Dragon has awakened, with one breakthrough in boxing after another, since China revived boxing more than two decades ago. 

In the 2004 Athens Olympics, there were five Chinese boxing athletes who qualified to compete in boxing. Zou Shiming was the only boxer to win a medal and end China's Olympic boxing medal drought by capturing one bronze. Apart from Zou, the second best was a fighter in the light heavyweight division who managed to qualify for the quarterfinal.

In the 2005 World Boxing Championships, Zou was crowned the 48kg champion and grabbed the first world amateur boxing gold medal for China, with three other compatriots making it to the last eight.

Two years later, at the 2007 World Boxing Championships, nearly 600 boxers from more than a hundred countries went to Chicago, yet China stood out from the crowd by reaping one gold, four bronze and seven "Olympic tickets", with nine out of eleven participants cruising to the eighth-finals and seven to the quarterfinals.

As host nation for the 2008 Olympic Games, China was permitted to have six wild card entries from the world championships. However, the Oriental Giant stood proudly in Chicago as it secured seven passes without a single free ride. This was the most among all the other Asian countries.

Next in line was the long-time Asian boxing powerhouse, Thailand, with five. Russia concluded with the most — nine qualifiers, while America ended up with six.

Despite the absence of Cuba, a dominating force in the world of amateur boxing, the competition in Chicago was by no means gentle. Both South Korea and Kyrgyzstan, two Asian nations with a rich boxing tradition, failed to qualify a single fighter. Only 23 out of 80 Asian fighters qualified to participate in the Beijing Olympic Games.

Zou, the reigning champion, cruised to the final with ease and defended his belt with the amazing scores of 15-3, 30-13, 23-6, 22-8, 21-1 and 17-3. It was hard to believe that this was the final score Zou tallied in every fight on his road to the championship in Chicago, yet it was for real.

In his six bouts, he outscored his opponents by 20 points in two fights and surpassed the other four with at least 12 points. Moreover, he hardly lost a round in the entire tournament. That's devastating; that's crushing; that's overwhelming. His opponents spent most of their time slugging air. They were fighting a ghost.

While Zou was a surefire hot favorite in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, China appeared to be ready to reach full blossom, as it reaped four bronze medals in four divisions in Chicago — that is, featherweight, middleweight, heavyweight and super heavyweight.

A total number of five put China right behind boxing titan Russia in the number of medals collected at the 14th World Boxing Championships.

However, for China, the 2007 World Boxing Championships was merely a rehearsal before the grand pageant. The best was yet to come.

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Zhenyu Li, a boxing historian and contributing columnist for some of the world's leading boxing publications, authors the "Beyond Gold" column for People's Daily Online in China.

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