Joe Joyce's Boxing Medal a Fitting End for Team GB's Heavyweight Rio 2016

Garry Hayes@@garryhayesFeatured ColumnistAugust 22, 2016

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 21:  Silver medalist Joe Joyce of Great Britain poses on the podium during the medal ceremony for the Men's Boxing Super Heavy (+91kg) on Day 16 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at Riocentro - Pavilion 6 on August 21, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
Alex Livesey/Getty Images

It could have been gold, but Team GB's Joe Joyce had to settle for silver in his super heavyweight showdown with France's Tony Yoka on the final day of eventing at the Olympic Games on Sunday.

Joyce taking gold at the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro would have been the perfect ending for British athletes after a fortnight of success in Brazil. Still, with a silver medal around his neck, Joyce's efforts were fitting as the last honour for Team GB in what has been a heavyweight Olympics from their perspective.

Britain finished second in the medals table behind USA. It means a country of just over 64 million inhabitants has toppled the might of China, who boast more than a billion and had to settle for third.

That is Herculean in every sense. Much like what we have seen from Joyce in Brazil.

The 30-year-old has enjoyed an incredible past fortnight or so. He has boxed well and carried the Union flag into his gold-medal match with aplomb. He has looked every bit the powerhouse we expect from those in his division.

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 21:  Tony Victor James Yoka of France and Joe Joyce of Great Britain compete during the Men's Super Heavy (+91kg) Final Bout on Day 16 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at Riocentro - Pavilion 6 on August 21, 2016 in Rio de Jan
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Heavyweights are supposed to be the guys throwing the big shots, landing them and causing their opponents pain. The division may not be as fluid as those further down the weight brackets, but it's the power that sucks us in. We relish hearing the sound of cracked leather as it lands with a thud.

Joyce has lived up to that with his performances, just like Anthony Joshua, who won gold in the same weight class as compatriot back at the London Games in 2012. Since then, he has gone on to become a world champion in the professional ranks and is now one of Britain's leading men in the ring.

His words for Joyce landed as accurately as one of his jabs on Sunday.

"I have never seen a heavyweight throw so many punches," Joshua said to BBC Sport of Joyce's performance against Yoka, believing the gold medal was awarded to the wrong fighter.

France's Tony Victor James Yoka (red) fights against Great Britain's Joe Joyce (blue) during the Men's Super Heavy (+91kg) Final Bout at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Riocentro - Pavilion 6 in Rio de Janeiro on August 21, 2016.  
France's Tony Victor
YURI CORTEZ/Getty Images

"Joe was aggressive, making the fight, and for me he is Olympic champion. In spirit he is champion."

It's apt that Joshua should talk about spirit where Joyce is concerned, as he's an athlete who embodies that Olympic flavour we champion every four years. Joyce isn't just a silver medalist, but a fighter who has done things the hard way.

Indeed, look at his life outside of the ring, and boxing isn't what immediately comes to mind. Joyce has a fine art degree and is a keen painter. Add to that the fact he was once a cheerleader and we get an idea for a man who is the antithesis of what stereotypes tell us we should be looking for in a boxer.

"I did a student exchange in America in my third at university, which was for a whole semester," Joyce told the Official Team GB Guide to Rio 2016 earlier this summer. Having decided against continuing in athletics, he had taken up boxing for a brief spell, but being stateside had meant he couldn't continue the sport.

Great Britain's Joe Joyce (red) fights Kazakhstan's Ivan Dychko during the Men's Super Heavy (+91kg) Semifinal 2 at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Riocentro - Pavilion 6 in Rio de Janeiro on August 19, 2016.   / AFP / Yuri CORTEZ        (Photo credit s
YURI CORTEZ/Getty Images

So from throwing punches in the ring, he was suddenly throwing cheerleaders into the air.

"I did my major at Sacramento State and did not box at all—in fact, I did cheerleading," he continued. "I wanted to do some sort of gymnastics and got chatting to someone there, and she invited me along to practice. The first move they taught me was the chair—the one where you throw the girl up and catch her with one hand. I thought, 'OK, this is alright.'"

So far as backstories go, there aren't many that can top Joyce's for the bizarre. His journey to the Rio Games was never one that was mapped out from the start, which is why it is so enticing.

When we think about some of the gold medals that Team GB secured in Brazil, it sort of fits the bill. The respective paths to greatness were different, yet plenty of GB's finest were doing the unexpected.

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 15:  Max Whitlock of Great Britain poses for photographs with his two gold medals in front of the Olympic Park on day 10 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at Rio Olympic Arena on August 15, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Pho
Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Max Whitlock was never fancied to win two golds in the space of an hour of gymnastics sessions on the pommel horse and floor, but he did. Jack Laugher and Chris Mears weren't supposed to be gold medalists in diving, but they were. They became the first Britons to ever achieve that feat in the sport, too.

The same goes for Jade Jones, who has now won back-to-back taekwondo gold medals. We also saw Team GB's women take top spot in the hockey and the Brownlee brothers completely dominate the men's triathlon event.

As a team, Great Britain surpassed what they achieved in London. That was a home Games, and the 65 medals back then—29 gold, 17 silver and 19 bronze—were supposed to be the pinnacle. Yet here we are now, with GB second in Rio with their medal count up to a phenomenal 67. This time it was 27 golds, 23 silver and 17 bronze.

That is super and it's just as much heavyweight. Joe Joyce officially ended Team GB's Rio interests, and the honour couldn't have fallen to a more suitable athlete.