George Bates came agonizingly close to Olympic qualification in Paris this afternoon.
The 27-year-old played Tokyo hockey cocky, having one foot on the plane to the next Olympics midway through the second round.
However, despite an impressive display in an all-action, tense and entertaining fight the Tallaght native lost out on a split decision to a World Championship gold medal winner [albeit at bantamweight] and a Rio Olympian.
Azerbaijan’s Javid Chalabiyev taking his place in Tokyo thanks to a 28-29, 30-27, 27-30, 28-29, 29-28 scorecard.
A whirlwind start saw both let their hands go and lead to an all-action round. It was clear Bates wanted to work from distance but his opponent was relentless and poured forward. However the Azerbaijan’s aggression wasn’t overly calculated and crips one-twos from Bates caught the eye, earning him the round.
Bates jab continued to prove a scoring shot in the second but he was able to mix it up when needed. A points deduction for another warning for Chalebiyev then saw the St Mary’s native put one foot on the plane to Tokyo but a point off for Bates, before a late trade off, evened things up in that regard.
Still three judges gave the round to the more aggressive Chalabiyev, setting up a winner takes all last round.
Chalabiyev came firing out of the blocks in the final stanza and the sloppier tired battle that ensued suited his approach more. Bates lost the calm he previously had in the eye of a storm of punches and as a result, lost the round, the fight and any hope of going to Tokyo.
Ireland have three more chances of getting fighter on the plane to Tokyo today. Aoife O’Rourke, Kellie Harrington and Emmett Brennan could all qualify for the Games with victory in the evening session in Paris.
Kiril Afanasev against Emanual Reyes of Spain and Gytis Lisinskas versus Peter Belberov of Bulgaria are in last 16 action before the break.
The evening session hosts a mouthwatering clash between Harrington and reigning IBF world champion Maiva Hamadouche. Emmett Brennan fights Luka Plantic of Croatia, Aoife O’Rourke takes of Elzbieta Wojik of Poland, and two time Olympian Brendan Irvine will be looking to improve his seeding in his contest.