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Last Updated: Monday, 23 August, 2004, 16:46 GMT 17:46 UK
KO for Pakistan Olympic dreams
Rifat Jawaid
By Rifat Jawaid
BBC Urdu Service, in Athens

Pakistani boxer Mehrullah
Mehrullah takes a tumble in his defeat by the Cuban, Ortiz
With their hockey side's humiliating defeat by Spain and now the demise of its boxers, Pakistan's Olympic team is resigned to returning home medal-less once more.

The hockey team was the major medal hope for Pakistan this year, as every year. The country's only Olympic gold always comes from this sport.

But it is a little-known fact Pakistan has won medals in other sports.

Wrestler Muhammed Bashir and boxer Hussain Shah both won bronzes in the 1960 and 1988 Olympics respectively.

So, when a record five boxers qualified for Athens - Faisal Karim, Mehrullah, Ahmed Ali Khan, Asghar Ali Shah and Suhail Ahmed - everyone in Pakistan hoped for a renewed medal haul.

Tough draw

These young and enthusiastic boxers helped win Pakistan all 10 gold medals available in the South Asian Federation Games in March this year.

They added three more golds in Olympic qualifiers.

I had come here as the Asian Games champion, but I was taken aback by the standard of some of my opponents
Mehrullah

However, Pakistan's participation in Athens is over. Their last hope, Ahmed Ali Khan, surrendered meekly to Kazakhstan's Gennadiy Golovkin in the 75kg middleweight.

"We had a very tough draw in this year's Olympics. Our boys were pitted against three world champions from Cuba and Kazakhstan," says coach Zaigham Maseel.

"Having said that, the experience we gained here will be immensely helpful in our future pursuit of medals."

Cricket obsession

According to Asghar Ali Shah, it was not the tough draw that proved instrumental in dashing Pakistan's medal hopes.

Asghar Ali Shah
A brave face, but Asghar Ali Shah is angry about funding

He told the BBC: "It is the continuous apathy shown by the powers that be in Pakistan towards us that has destroyed our medal aspirations.

"The [boxers from Kazakhstan and Cuba] have two hands, we have two hands. What's the difference? The difference is that they travelled to five or six countries in their preparations for the Olympics.

"We could only afford to travel to Cuba before coming here. How do you expect us to visit five or six countries on the 100,000 rupees ($2,000) we receive from the government as an annual grant?" asked Shah.

He defeated Uzbekistan's Volodymyr Kravets - a much higher-ranked fighter - convincingly to reach the round of 16 but lost there to Cuba's legendary Mario Cesar Kindelan.

Kindelan is the reigning world champion in the 60kg lightweight category.

Shah's team colleague, Mehrullah, says the standard at the Olympics is just too high for South Asian boxers.

"I had come here as the Asian Games champion, but I was taken aback by the standard of some of my opponents.

"Had I had a few preparatory bouts with them prior to coming here, you would have seen a totally different Mehrullah."

Hussain Shah's bronze in Seoul provided a much-needed fillip for boxing in Pakistan, with people taking up the sport in droves.

But boxing, much like hockey, still struggles to find prominence in a nation obsessed by cricket.



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