Belfast bantamweight Michael Conlan boosted Ireland’s battered Olympic boxing hopes with a solid 3-0 points win over Armenian Aram Avagyan on Sunday that put the world champion one fight away from a medal.
Conlan, a flyweight bronze medallist four years ago, and reigning Olympic women’s lightweight champion Katie Taylor are the only two Irish boxers left in the competition out of eight who started.
Ireland won four medals in boxing at London 2012.
Russian Vladimir Nikitin now stands between Conlan and at least another bronze, the guaranteed reward for all semi-finalists.
“It’s been a long wait, I’ve seen everybody fight and it comes to me and it’s a lot of pressure coming with it,” said Conlan who drew a bye in the opening round and is now the last man standing.
“I went in there, I had probably one of the worst performances in a long time and I still came away with the win.
“I’m here for gold, as always, and nothing’s going to change with that.”
He has fought Nikitin before, losing to the Russian just after moving up a division in 2013, but the scoring system has changed since then to the professional style format and he fancied his chances.
“I’m confident. If I come away with anything else than gold I will be thoroughly disappointed,” he said.
Ireland had middleweight Michael O’Reilly suspended and then sent home before the Games started when it was revealed that he had failed a dope test before leaving for Rio.
Light-flyweight Paddy Barnes, a bronze medallist in 2008 and 2012 and also from Belfast in the north, exited last week.
Light-heavyweight Joe Ward went out early on, lightweight David Oliver Joyce lost in the last 16 and welterweight Steven Donnelly bowed out in the quarter-finals. Flyweight Brendan Irvine was the sixth to go, losing 3-0 on Saturday.
“I can’t really say I was bothered,” said Conlan of those defeats. I was mainly gutted for Paddy because he’s my best mate. I know the struggles he’s had but I had a feeling he was going to come here and win gold.
“The boys losing, I was gutted for them but it is what it is. It’s an individual sport. Even if we are a team we are still individuals.
“If they don’t win gold, they are on a different path and their careers are going to go a different way to mine but I’m here for the gold.”