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Thursday, September 23, 2021

Tokyo 2020: Disdain on the podium, Ben Whittaker later rues missed moment

The disappointment of losing the Olympics final in a split decision weighed more on Ben Whittaker than the joy of achieving something not many get to do – stand on an Olympic podium. He later realised what he missed.

Written by Shahid Judge |
Updated: August 5, 2021 6:44:53 am
Ben Whittaker stored his silver medal in his pocket rather than place it around his neck. (Twitter/TeamGB)

On the night of July 11, images from the trophy presentation ceremony after the European Championship final were transmitted all over the world. Even in defeat, this was still a moment to be cherished by the English football team. World football’s greatest underachievers had reached, and albeit lost, their first ever continental final.

Yet one by one, a series of players not quite satisfied with the runner-up tag, swore fealty to the old saying that you don’t win silver, you lose gold. The likes of Marcus Rashford, Luke Shaw, Jadon Sancho, Jack Grealish, Mason Mount and Kyle Walker removed with disdain the silver medals presented to them almost immediately after it was placed around their necks.

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The podium can often be the greatest bastion of symbolism. And those band of English footballers would not be the only ones from Great Britain this year to shrug off a silver medal.

On Wednesday, West Bromwich-born Ben Whittaker did something similar.

Protocols to protect against Covid-19 at the Tokyo Olympics dictates that each medal is brought to the winners on a tray and then the athlete wears it around the neck themselves. But the 24-year-old, who lost the men’s light heavyweight boxing final at the Kokugikan Arena to 2016 Rio champion Arlen Lopez of Cuba, stored the silver medal in his pocket rather than place it around his neck.

The disappointment of losing the final in a split decision weighed more than the joy of achieving something not many get to do – stand on an Olympic podium, a glittering medal around the neck, as the national flag is hoisted a short distance away. He later realised what he missed.

“I was doing it for everybody at home and I felt like a failure. At the time, I should have put this beautiful silver medal around my neck and smiled because this is not just for me, it’s for the country,” he said to reporters after the match, the silver medal glistening from around his neck during the interaction.

“Please accept that I wasn’t trying to be disrespectful to anyone. I wasn’t trying to take the shine away from Arlen’s moment, but it hurt me so deep, and I felt so embarrassed. I will look back on it later and think ‘what was I doing?’ When I look back in a few years, it will probably feel like a great achievement, but I was so upset that I couldn’t enjoy it.”

The 24-year-old, who stands at a commanding 6-foot-3 tried to use his reach to jab and keep Lopez at bay. But the Cuban, who was aiming to defend his title, brought his experience to the fore.

This was a loss the Brit will remember, but for the right reasons – becoming an Olympic medallist. But it’s clear – through a quick glance of his social media account – that he doesn’t forget the losses very easily.

He’s pinned a Tweet he uploaded in September 2019, after he won bronze at the World Championships. “Bronze Medal, not satisfied and very disappointed but it will make me hungrier for Tokyo.”

In Japan he went a step further.

Interestingly, the last tweet he did upload was related to the ongoing farmers issue in India.

Dated February 4, he penned: “Thousands have been protesting in India. The farming population of India suffer a cycle of debt, poverty & suicides. New farm laws will make farmers even worse off than ever. Our support & efforts are a powerful statement of unity.”

Amidst the activism he hasn’t forgotten his day job. And in Tokyo he’s shown that he still excels at it. Even if the silver didn’t glitter as brightly as the gold he lost.

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