Winner of both the gold medal and the Val Barker award for the best boxer at London 2012, Kazakhstan’s Serik Sapiyev has been keenly watching the Rio 2016 Boxing Tournament unfold over the last week in Riocentro Pavilion 6 from outside the ring. Since his victory four years ago – the third consecutive Welterweight title for the national team – Mr Sapiyev has had a youth training centre named after him and become part of the management of the Astana Arlans World Series of Boxing franchise. We caught up with him as he watched his boxers make a successful start to the Rio 2016 Olympic competition.
How have you found the atmosphere in Rio so far compared to London 2012?
I have to say that the fans are amazing, they really get behind all the boxers and you can feel how much this tournament means to the fans and the athletes. In London it was difficult to really sample the atmosphere like I can now, but let’s say they are more emotional here.
Is it difficult to have to watch from the stands and not be more involved?
I do really miss boxing, but I know that that part of my career has finished now and I still have a lot to give to the sport, it is in my soul.
This year sees the removal of headguards at an Olympics for the first time since 1984. Would you have liked to win your Olympic gold without one?
To be honest I would have liked the chance to win my gold without the headgear, it makes for better contests and is safer for the boxers. Whereas before, the boxers could be more defensive, the bouts now are more open. It is down to AIBA’s changes that the new system has helped boxing become more exciting to watch.
The standard of boxing has been incredibly high already at Rio 2016, do you think the growth of the WSB competition has helped lift the level of performances?
The WSB competition has definitely benefitted our boxers, it teaches them to be more patient and gives them a big stage to perform on. I see the WSB project growing and developing every year along with the boxers, and I think that has been reflected at these Games so far.
Yeleussinov will be going for your country’s fourth successive Welterweight Olympic gold, what is it that has made Kazakhstan so successful at that weight?
Yeleussinov was a silver medalist in Doha, and I also won World Championship silver before my Olympic gold. The welterweight class is just a natural weight for Kazakhstan and for our people. For this generation, it seems to be the ideal weight.
Is the team’s success in Rio so far a reflection of the healthy state of boxing across your country?
The atmosphere in the Kazakhstan camp is very positive. It is relaxed but very focussed. We are getting behind each other, and there is a confidence that is running from the coaches through to the boxers. We have a very strong team bond here, while at home the Kazakhstan Boxing Federation is doing everything to support the men and women boxers. AIBA have been very supportive of our Federation, and I think the strength of Kazakh boxing today is a reflection of the boost in popularity that has resulted from us hosting events like the 2013 Almaty Men’s World Championships and the Women’s World Championships in Almaty earlier this year.