Tokyo Olympics: Irie reveals boxing dream as Japan youngster makes instant impact

By Sports Desk July 24, 2021

Sena Irie has dreamt of winning an Olympic gold medal for Japan since she began boxing as a child, and a triumphant start at Tokyo 2020 has supercharged her self-belief.

The 20-year-old beat El Salvador's Yamileth Solorzano on a unanimous points verdict as all five judges scored her a comfortable winner, setting up a last-16 clash with Tunisia's Khouloud Hlimi Ep Moulahi.

Irie is a featherweight who took silver in the Asian and Oceanian Olympic qualifying event, held in Jordan almost 18 months ago. She also finished fifth at the 2019 AIBA Women's World Boxing Championships.

Asked what a gold would mean at the Olympics, Irie said: "Boxing is a minority sport in Japan, but it would mean so much for the sport and for me.

"It's hard to say in words. But I have been training for this moment for 13 years and winning gold is what I have been dreaming about all that time."

Fighting at the Kokugikan Arena came as a relief to the young Japanese star, who had feared the Games would be cancelled.

"I felt very sad about that possibility as I wanted to compete in a Games in my home country," she said.

"All the athletes were sending messages to each other with what was happening until we heard the news the Games would go ahead. We were so happy then. But now I can try and win a medal for my country after getting through my first fight."

Irie will face stiff competition, with the Philippines' Nesthy Petecio also in the draw and seeking to add Olympic gold to the World Championships title she secured two years ago.

Petecio beat Irie at that event, but the Japanese fighter avenged that loss in the Olympic qualifiers.

After starting with a points win over DR Congo's Marcelat Sakobi Matshu in the first boxing match of Tokyo 2020, Petecio said: "This is my first Olympics but there are mixed emotions really. I want to enjoy it but I know I need to improve."

Petecio added: "This is a new medal to fight for. It's a chance for a new achievement and I have forgotten about what I have achieved in the past."

She will tackle Taiwanese number one seed Lin Yu-Ting next, and said: "It's a fight I am very excited about. I know she also will have been looking at facing me in the draw so it will be a great fight."

Professionals are mixing with amateurs at the Tokyo Games, and among the men's featherweights is 23-year-old American Duke Ragan, who has taken his first steps in the paid ranks.

Ragan snatched a split points win over Frenchman Samuel Kistohurry on Saturday and accused his opponent of turning their battle into "a wrestling match".

"The guy was like wrestling me, making it hard for me. It was a great fight though," said Ragan. "He did what he came to do to try to make it rough on me because guys know that I like to box and be on the outside.

"I was a bit hard-headed, going to try and do what I thought was right. I've got to listen to the eyes on the outside to make adjustments."

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