The future can wait as Galal Yafai absorbs his Olympic gold medal triumph, writes John Dennen
CARLO PAALAM wanted to beat Galal Yafai at his own game. In the 52kgs Olympic final on Saturday (August 7) he had wanted to meet Yafai head on and force the Briton on to the backfoot. But Yafai was faster, more aggressive and even put the Filipino down in the first round. “If not for the knockdown, I could have made a fight of it, but credit to my opponent. I had a game plan to pressure him, to cut the ring off and to trap him. But I got hit by a solid shot and I tried to recover. I got up and tried to make a fight of it but he had my number,” Paalam reflected. “My opponent was very good and I had this Olympic dream. I tried to impose my spirit on him, but he won.”
Paalam still receives an impressive silver medal. “The silver medal symbolises what I went through because when I was a young boy, I was a scavenger and I collected junk and garbage. I know this medal is made out of recycled materials, and I can identify with it because it is also made from waste material and garbage,” Paalam said.
Yafai’s performance on the biggest stage makes him a star of the future. “It’s a massive day for me. Being Olympic champion is something I’ve always dreamed of since I was young, and I’ve managed to do it today. I’m overwhelmed and being an Olympic champion will live with me forever,” he said. “I’m Olympic champion now. You know what, it sounds crazy saying, ‘I’m Olympic champion’. It hasn’t sunk in yet but I’m sure it will soon.
“Olympic champion, man, it’s crazy. You don’t really get much of a smile out of me, but I’m over the moon now.”
He managed to keep himself grounded even going into the biggest contest of his life. “To me it’s just another fight. I know it’s an Olympic final but I go into every fight to beat who’s in front of me,” he said.
Dropping Paalam was a crucial moment. He wanted that first round, he wanted to take the lead and defend it. “When someone is in an Olympic final you know you are going to be up against it,” Galal said. “I was a bit overwhelmed to put him down, but I knew that would get me the round. [Paalam] is a great fighter and showed determination to get back up.
“I just wanted to capitalise on that lead and I managed to do that, so thank God it works out for me.”
The next natural step will be to turn professional. His old brothers are already pro boxers, Kal Yafai has held the WBA super-flyweight belt while Gamal became European champion. “Now I’m Olympic champion I’m not really looking too much into the future. I think my Olympic cycle is done now. I want to be world champion as a professional,” he said. “I’ll have a rest now. Obviously everyone wants to turn pro. I’ve been amateur for a long time, been to two Olympic Games, I’m Olympic champion now.
“I think it’s a big thing that everyone wants to do, but I’m just going to have a rest at the minute and spend time with family and friends and just soak it all in.
“But this means everything at the moment now.”