Jul 17 2012 By Paul Warburton
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AS the countdown to London 2012 reaches its climax, we take a look at West London's Olympic legacy - whether through Olympians from the area, or those who have had a lasting impact on it. Today, with 11 days left, Paul Warburton looks at James DeGale's against-the-odds gold medal from 2008.
SO HOW was it than the 80-1 outsider won the 2008 Olympic middleweight gold medal?
How was it possible the faith of Leroy DeGale got rewarded with a £10,000 winning bet on son, James? And how was it brother Alex cleared his Visa card debt in one go?
Such is the beauty of sport that once in a while the form book gets ripped up.
The former Dale Youth and Hammersmith-born fighter from Harlesden has since conquered Europe and waits in line for a tilt at a professional world crown. But Olympic success three years ago was as distant as China.
That was because the boxing world expected the almost unbeatable Matvey Korobov to waltz his way to the podium.
The Russian was 2007 and 2005 world champion, and worse still from everyone else’s point of view, made both wins look pretty easy.
DeGale was a mere bronze medallist in the Commonwealth Games, and even Darren Sutherland from Ireland got the better of him in their five meetings up to Beijing.
It wasn’t that ‘Chunky’ lacked pedigree. After all, he was awarded the GB vest over bitter rival George Groves, a team-mate at Dale, even though the Hammersmith man had beaten DeGale and was the ABA champion.
But if ever circumstance played into a gold-medal winning pair of hands – it was this Olympiad.
The bookies noted DeGale on the same side of the draw as Korobov, and offered handsome odds few fancied.
But today, DeGale swears his most nervous fight of the five was the first against Egyptian Mohamed Hikal.
“I knew he could box, and he had a good record to prove it,” said Chunky. “And I was first GB boxer up. And when you’re the first away you want to make a good start for the team.”
This he did with a confidence-boosting 10-4 win, knowing that elsewhere Korobov was about to fight a man with whom DeGale had forged a 1-1 record.
The west Londoner beat Bakhtiyar Artayev in London to square an earlier defeat to the Kazakhstani - also in China.
But as DeGale waited in the changing room to fight American Shawn Estrada next, word filtered back Korobov was struggling against Artayev.
To all and sundry’s amazement, the man from Kazakhstan edged a 10-7 victory over an over-confident Korobov, and Chunky had to be roped in from cloud nine before facing Estrada.
“I’d be lying if I didn’t say it was a great boost,” he added. The USA champion was summarily dispatched 11-5, and then the GB man used his ringcraft and speed to get past Artayev 8-3 and set up a semi-final with arch nemesis Sutherland.
It was 4-1 to the Irishman when both squared up at the Workers Indoor Arena. This time, DeGale got to work and exorcised demons against a boxer who was sadly to commit suicide in 2009.
Previous meetings saw the west Londoner play into Sutherland’s hands. This time, brain beat brawn as Degale cleverly worked his 10-3 victory and a shot at the ultimate amateur prize.
Cuba has been THE Olympic boxing country since the 1960s, and the one man standing between DeGale and glory was Emilio Correa hoping to join a long line of Fidel’s champions.
But this was no Teófilo Stevenson or Félix Savón.
This was a Cuban who took a great chunk out of Chunky’s chest with a bite mark in the first round, and got docked two points as a result.
As an enraged DeGale sat back on his stool, it needed all the calming skills of coach Terry Edwards to settle down his man, while second Dave Hocknell shouted: “he’s not ------- listening!”
As it turned out he was, although it was a scrappy, messy affair with DeGale having to wrestle, prod and push to score telling blows and inch ahead.
He could hear Edwards and Hocknell screaming a 16-14 lead with 20 seconds to go, and as the boxer put it: “I was on my bike then around the ring. I knew I had it.”
Back home in west London, there were a select few who looking forward to it as well, and bookies sorrowfully shook their heads while reaching for their cheque books.