AFTER spending three years trying to get on to the GB boxing programme, Aqeel Ahmed is hopeful that a Commonwealth Games gold medal will tip the balance and see him, finally, get the call.
“I’ve been making a case for three years to get on GB so I think I’ve got a good case now but who knows? I think it should have happened sooner – I’ve won the British [Championships] three years running and I’ve won golds at 10 of my last 11 tournaments,” the -49kg fighter said, having had his place in Team Scotland for the 2018 Commonwealth Games confirmed last week. “It’s a bit suspicious – but all I’ll say is that boys have been put on GB for less than I’ve done. I don’t know what will get me on but I’d like to think a Commonwealth gold would do it.”
Ahmed was one of nine boxers named in Team Scotland and he admits that with Gold Coast 2018 kicking off in just four months, the Games are beginning to feel very real now. This will be Ahmed’s second Commonwealth Games appearance having competed at Glasgow 2014, bowing out in the quarter-finals. However, having given up the sport for 18 months in 2010 after falling out of love with it, he admits that his mindset was not what it needed to be to do any better in Glasgow and despite a number of his peers turning pro afterwards, he remained in the amateur ranks to have another crack at Commonwealth glory.
“The disappointment at Glasgow has definitely driven me on,” the 25-year-old from Motherwell said. “I stayed amateur because I wanted another go at the Games. In Glasgow, I was up against a good opponent but I felt like I should have been amongst the medals. But I didn’t have the mindset I needed to be a medal contender because I was just happy to be there.”
This time around, things could not be more different. Merely making the team will not satisfy Ahmed and he knows that anything less than silverware will be a crushing blow.
“I have much higher expectations now,” the Keir Hardy fighter said. “I’m expecting gold. For this Games, I know I belong there and that I should be medalling.”
One of Ahmed’s primary challengers for gold will be Englishman Galal Yafai who defeated Ahmed at both the European and the World Amateur Boxing Championships this year. The Scot put up far greater resistance the second time around and he believes that were the pair to meet at the Commonwealth Games, he would strike it third time lucky.
“Yafai is a very good fighter,” Ahmed said. “The first time we fought, I was a little inexperienced but the second time, I gave him a much better fight. He’s probably one of the gold medal favourites but I really don’t think I’m far away from him. He won our first fight pretty convincingly – he bullied me with his strength but the second fight, I think I showed I’d close the gap and so I think the third time, I’ll be ready to beat him.”
Ahmed, who has taken a year out from his college course to concentrate on preparing for the Games, has seen first-hand what Commonwealth gold can do for one’s career. Both Charlie Flynn and particularly Josh Taylor have used their Commonwealth gold medals at Glasgow 2014 as a springboard to success in the professional ranks and Ahmed admits that he is using his compatriots’ success three years ago as motivation. “In Glasgow, I was a little jealous [of Flynn and Taylor] – not in a bad way but in the sense of that’s what I wanted,” he said. “I’ve been watching Josh’s fights and he’s catapulted himself right to the top since the Games. He’s a special talent.”
Success at Gold Coast 2018 could also have wider benefits as young Asians look up to Ahmed. At Glasgow 2014, he was the only athlete of Asian descent in Team Scotland and there is likely to be similarly low numbers this time around. Ahmed takes that responsibility seriously but he does not feel it heaps additional pressure upon his shoulders.
“I feel like I am a role model in a sense,” he said. “I’m the only Asian boxer at my gym and there will be a lot of young people who look up to me in Motherwell. I don’t feel any extra pressure or responsibility from that though, I just take it as it comes.”