Kicking his heels does not come easy for Joe Ham. Scotland’s bantamweight hope at these Games has been a coil unsprung in recent days, enviously watching his colleagues depart the Athletes Village to put months of sweat and toil into practice before returning, hours later, with joyous tales of the thunderous support dished out by a partisan crowd.
Last night, the 23-year-old Glaswegian took his turn to experience the acclaim at first hand. “I’ve been sat about since last Thursday but once I got out there, it was some reception,” he declared with a touch of disbelief. “Just for me. It was unbelievable.”
Facing Pakistan’s Nadir Nadir in the round of eight, Ham merited the plaudits. It was not, he conceded, his finest display. In the opening stanza, there was evidence of ring rust, perhaps even complacency, when his opponent gave as good as he got. By the second, the mohawked Scot was more assertive and it was a decisive approach, a right hook penetrating the defences to spark a flurry that proved difficult to resist. Nadir held off that onslaught but the judges were unanimous in their verdict.
“I felt like I was hitting a stone wall but I’m fighting again on Wednesday so I didn’t want to take unnecessary shots,” Ham stated. “I was just taking it nice and easy. But now it’s the quarter-finals so it gets harder.”
Next on his hit list is England’s Qais Ashfaq with the long-time rivals meeting tomorrow for a place in the semi-finals. Colleagues on the Great Britain squad, they have split their two previous contests but this one, vowed Ham, will be much different.
“I’m confident,” he said. “I train hard. This is my home city. As soon as I throw a punch in here, the crowd will go mental. I just need to be a little more disciplined. That fight will be a bit harder. This was just first gear. I’ll put it into fifth for the next one.”
Kieran Smith accelerated as best he could against England’s Antony Fowler but found himself frequently in reverse. The 21-year-old from Livingston saw his challenge in the middleweight division last only nine minutes as the cousin of former Liverpool striker Robbie underlined his status as a medal contender.
Felled briefly in the opening round, Smith struggled to recover and a series of venomous strikes to his face and head in the second wounded body as much as pride but this was, he knew, always a fight against the odds with the pedigree of the world championship medallist already established.
“I can’t be too disappointed,” the Scot stated. “I knew it would be a big challenge. He’s a good fighter. I have to learn to keep my hands up. He’s just a fraction sharper than me. We train the same but those small things make a difference.”
Fowler will be one to follow. Others won the attention of the crowd with Northern Ireland’s Paddy Barnes, the presumed favourite for the light-fly title, advancing against Tanzania’s Hamadi Furahisha. But none received a more mixed reaction than Kenyan bantam Benson Njangiru who emerged victorious from the ring and then proceeded to pull on a Celtic jersey adorned with the number of his compatriot Victor Wanyama. Cheers and boos meshed together. For once in this most Glaswegian of bouts, his was a fight confined to the ring.
In the afternoon session, Dundonian light-flyweight Adel Ahmed celebrated his 22nd birthday by moving into the last eight with a unanimous points win over Kenya’s Alamosa Mateo. The trainee accountant, who has taken leave from totting up balance sheets, will maintain his self-denial until his campaign is done.
“It could’ve been a day to remember or a day to forget,” he said. “Luckily it’s a day to remember. I’ve still got to make weight so I can’t even enjoy a bit of cake. I’ll celebrate when this is over, when I’ve got a gold medal round my neck. I had a lot of pressure, this being my birthday and it’s also my niece’s birthday. My family have never seen me fight before and they all came today so I’m glad to get the win in front of them.”
A number of Scottish hopefuls are in action today, with Reece McFadden seeking a spot in the flyweight semi-finals against Botswana’s Oteng Oteng. Josh Taylor meets Zack Davies of Wales for a spot in the last four of the light welter class, while Ross Henderson will bid to avenge two prior losses to England’s Joe Joyce when they square off for a place in the super-heavyweight semis. ““With the crowd in Scotland behind me, it can make a difference,” he said.