Interview: Team GB boxer Qais Ashfaq eyes gold medal in Rio

Sports Mole catches up with Team GB bantamweight boxer Qais Ashfaq ahead of the 2016 Olympic Games in Brazil.

Great Britain will take 12 boxers to this summer's Rio Olympics, which represents their biggest team since Los Angeles in 1984.

Among those competing in Brazil will be bantamweight Qais Ashfaq, who already boasts a silver medal from the 2014 Commonwealth Games and a silver at the European Championships in 2015.

The 23-year-old also landed a bronze at the inaugural European Games in 2015, but only gold will do for the Leeds-born fighter this time around as he looks to put his name down in the history books.

On Friday, the 12-strong boxing squad, which includes London 2012 flyweight champion Nicola Adams, will travel to a holding camp in Belo Horizonte, before entering the Athletes' Village next week to settle in ahead of the opening ceremony on August 5.

Ashfaq, a well-spoken, confident and articulate young man, is not feeling the nerves, however, as he prepares to enter the biggest competition of his life.

Team GB boxer Qais Ashfaq celebrates after beating Giorgi Gocatishvili of Georgia at the European Games on June 17, 2015 © Getty Images

"Right now it is just same old. Until I get out there, I don't think it is going to hit me, to be honest!" Ashfaq told Sports Mole in an exclusive interview with the 56kg athlete.

The Brit was also asked about the strength of the Great Britain boxing team travelling to the Games and he believes that the volume of qualifiers is an indication of the type of work that has been put into the latest cycle.

"We have got a really, really strong team going out there. One of the strongest teams we have had and it just shows how much we have come on over the years. In Athens 2004, Amir Khan was our only qualifier and now we have 12. It shows the difference, how hard the team has been working."

Ashfaq is not there for the scenery though, or indeed to take anything less than the gold medal, which would crown him as the best amateur bantamweight on the planet.

"Without a doubt [gold is my aim]. I have always felt, and I know in my own heart, that I can beat anyone on the right day, as long as I perform to my ability. Gold is my aim, without a doubt."

Great Britain's Qais Ashfaq in action during his bout with Giorgi Gocatishvili of Georgia at the European Games in Baku on June 17, 2015© Getty Images

It was far from plain sailing for the 23-year-old, however, as he had to come through a tough semi-final bout with Ukraine's Mykola Butsenko in the 2016 European Qualifiers to secure a spot in the finals.

Ashfaq entered the semi-final in Turkey with a patched-up face and also suffered a deep cut during the bout with Butsenko, but managed to use his growing experience to hold off the challenge and box his way to the Games with a points success.

"It was so nerve-wracking! I remember going to the corner to see the doctor and saying 'I'm fine, I'm fine, I'm fine, I'm fine.' It was a tight one. It was so nerve-wracking, but the main thing is that we got through it and qualified.

"People forget that Butsenko was a world bronze medallist and has won the Europeans, he has been around for years and he was not a pushover. People also forget the state I was in before that fight even started, I walked in the ring with two cuts, but I got through it and qualified."

Ireland's Michael Conlan, who beat Ashfaq in the final of the 2014 Commonwealth Games and 2015 European Championships and also took silver at flyweight in London 2012, will travel to Brazil as many people's favourite to land the gold medal.

However, Ashfaq is certain that he can match the 24-year-old on his day and is hopeful that the decision will go his way this time around, if indeed the two men go head to head once again.

"I let the other fighters worry about me. He has had some trouble with me in our two fights. The first fight at the Commonwealth Games, I will admit he beat me fair and square, but the second time a lot of people thought that I had won the fight and that just shows how much I have improved. We are another year on and hopefully this time I will get the decision."

Team GB's Qais Ashfaq on May 29, 2015© Getty Images

The 2016 Olympics will represent Ashfaq's first visit to Brazil and the Brit has insisted that he is in excellent shape ahead of the competition after being put through a tough camp, which ended with some solid sparring sessions.

"No I have never been there before. We were supposed to go a couple of years ago with a couple of Team GB select lads against Brazil, but it fell through. We leave on Friday morning, we are heading to the holding camp in Belo Horizonte and then the week after that we head into Athletes' Village.

"It has been a long week in camp, I sparred the Indian who is world number four and sparred Luke McCormack from Team GB. I have done some good sparring and now I just cannot wait to get out there, take it all in and then concentrate on the boxing."

For now though, Ashfaq is soaking up the heatwave that has swept Britain: "I've been sweating so much. I feel like I'm losing weight!"

Galal Yafai (light-flyweight), Muhammad Ali (flyweight), Joe Cordina (lightweight), Pat McCormack (light-welterweight), Josh Kelly (welterweight), Anthony Fowler (middleweight), Joshua Buatsi (light-heavyweight), Lawrence Okolie (heavyweight), Joe Joyce (super-heavyweight), Nicola Adams (flyweight) and Savannah Marshall (middleweight) complete the team for this summer's Games.

Share this article now:
Team GB boxer Joe Joyce celebrates following his win over Moldova's Alexei Zavatin at the European Games in Baku on June 20, 2015
Read Next:
Team GB to take 12 boxers to Rio
>

Loading ...

Failed to load data.

Loading ...

Failed to load data.

Select and display your favourite team's news and scores in this panel

Loading ...

Failed to load data.

Loading ...

Failed to load data.

Select and display your favourite team's news and scores in this panel

Subscribe to our Newsletter


Transfer Talk Daily
Match previews - twice weekly
Morning Briefing (7am UTC)
Ultra close-up image of Kevin De Bruyne [NOT FOR USE IN ARTICLES]Get the latest transfer news, match previews and news direct to your inbox!

Loading ...

Failed to load data.

Loading ...

Failed to load data.

Select and display your favourite team's news and scores in this panel
Login, I already have my ad-free pass
Log in to customise Sports Mole
Buy ad-free access (show me the options)
Buy monthly ad-free access for Β£1.20/month
Buy yearly ad-free access for Β£12 (2 months free)
Settings - Logout - Manage your account
Settings - Logout - Manage your account