Thursday sees the start of the final AOB World qualifier in Baku, Azerbaijan. 469 boxers from 105 nations will compete for just 39 Olympic slots.
Among these are four Irishmen who will look to join their seven team-mates on the plane to Rio, and irish-boxing.com takes a look at their chances
Men’s Light Welterweight (64kg)
Dean Walsh proved in Samsun at the European Olympic qualifier that he is one of the top boxers at the weight, losing a contentious split-decision to #1 seed Lorenzo Sotomayor. Following a tense selection process with Ray Moylette and Sean McComb, the Wexford man now needs to finish in the Top 5* in Baku. Threats here for Walsh will come from the likes of Gary Russell (younger brother of the WBC featherweight champion), Great Britain’s Pat McCormack, Korean starlet Hyunchul Lim, Ukrainian Viktor Petrov, and Armenia’s Hovhannes Bachkov.
*It has yet to be confirmed whether the Top 5 includes the quarter finalist who loses to the eventual gold medallist or if the four losing quarter finalists box-off in a semi-final and final format for the remaining spot.
Men’s Middleweight (75kg)
Following the blatant robbery at last year’s World Championships, an injury at the recent European Olympic Qualifier, and a re-evalution of his place on the squad, Azerbaijan represents the last chance saloon for the incredibly talented Michael O’Reilly.
Threats to O’Reilly’s chances of securing a Top 5 place in Baku include Indian 2012 Olympian and 2011 World Championships bronze medalist Vikas Yadav who holds a win over the Irishman. Also dangerous are Ecuador’s Marlo Delgado and Mongolian Shinebayar Narmandakh.
Men’s Heavyweight (91kg)
Darren O’Neill has proved over the last year thehe can mix it with any heavyweight on the planet, dropping a contentious split decision to Azeri star Abdulkadir Abdullayev. Due to the smaller number of places available at the larger weights, O’Neill now has to win the final qualifier in Azerbaijan.
While he faces a mountainous task, O’Neill will take confidence from his close losses to Gevorg Manukian, Evgeny Tishchenko and Abdulkadir Abdullayev. Threats in Baku include New Zealand youngster David Nyika, U.S internet sensation Cam Awesome, former Ukrainian foe Manukian, and tough Pole Igor Jakubowski.
Men’s Super Heavyweight (+91kg)
Dean Gardiner is probably the man with the toughest route to Rio of any of Ireland’s remaining boxers. ‘Breakfast’ will need to win either the WSB/APB qualifier or the final Worldwide qualifier.
Threats to the Tipperary giant include Russians Maxim Babanin and Magomed Omarov, Istvan Bernath of Hungary, and Bulgarian Petar Belberov.