Britain’s Galal Yafai and Bulgaria’s Stoyka Zhelyazkova Krasteva won first boxing golds for their countries at the Tokyo Olympics after dominant displays in their flyweight finals on Saturday.
Reigning Commonwealth champion Yafai won on a split decision against Filipino Carlo Paalam in the men’s match but was always the stronger boxer, fighting on the front foot and beating Paalam with accurate punches and a composed performance.
A two-times bantamweight runner-up in world championships, 35-year-old Krasteva finally got her gold, showing her experience across the three rounds to deny Buse Naz Cakiroglu, 10 years her junior, Turkey’s first-ever boxing Olympic title.
In the men’s contest, Yafai sent the 23-year-old Filipino to the canvas in the first round with a fierce left hook to the chin but Paalam recovered quickly and fought hard for what could have been the Philippines’ first-ever Olympic boxing gold medal.
The Briton, who once worked in a car factory and has two brothers who were professional boxers, kept his cool as Paalam came out battling in the next two rounds, mixing roundhouses with uppercuts through the middle, but Yafai held a strong guard to fend off his opponent.
“Being Olympic champion is something I’ve always wanted to do,” Yafai said. “I’m Olympic champion now and I’m over the moon. I’ve worked hard, I took up boxing and thank god it worked out for me. I trained hard, gave it everything, and it just shows that if you work hard, you can get the rewards.
“My friends, family, brothers will be over the moon. Everyone back in Birmingham, the support I’ve had has been ridiculous, I just want to say a big thanks to everyone who has supported me. It’s overwhelming, I’m just so grateful for everyone to show me that love.
“I don’t know if, at every moment, I knew or believed that I was going to be Olympic champion. I could hear big Frazer Clarke [Team GB boxing captain], and I want to say a big happy birthday to him as well. It’s his day. He said to me to win the Olympic gold for his birthday and I’m glad to do that as his present.”
Cakiroglu trailed after the first round and switched tactics in the second, moving from front foot to back foot to try to reverse the advantage but Krasteva stayed strong.
Krasteva, a 2012 London Olympian, came out of retirement in 2018 to try to finish her career with a Games medal and walked around the arena celebrating, holding aloft her national flag.