LONDON (Reuters) - Classy Roniel Iglesias Sotolongo won Cuba’s first Olympics boxing gold in eight years on Saturday when he beat Ukraine’s Denys Berinchyk in a battle which pitted the great amateur boxing nation against the rising force of the sport.
Sotolongo, one of the most clinical boxers at the Games who beat world light-welterweight champion Everton dos Santos Lopes of Brazil on his way to the final, caught the aggressive Ukrainian with one left upper cut too many to win 22-15.
“Today is the day which is the most important in my whole career,” Sotolongo told reporters. “Without my family I could not achieve this victory. They will be so proud, I dedicate this to them.”
Sotolongo, one of four Cuban bronze medalists at the Beijing Games, took a tight first round 5-4 after both men came out aggressively, trading powerful right and left jabs, and the Cuban’s left upper-cut proved the difference.
It was the same story in the second round with the 23-year-old Cuban proving too quick for Berinchyk who has sported one of the oddest haircuts at the Olympics, an eye-catching mostly shaved style with a lengthy piece of hair left on top.
The Ukrainian world championship silver medalist may have produced one of the tournament’s best rounds in the semi-finals, scoring more points in the final three minutes than most have managed in nine, but there was little chance of a repeat on Saturday.
Sotolongo was just as relentless in the last round, delivering a series of stinging right jabs before beating his chest as the final bell rang and waving the Cuban flag in a victory lap of honor once the result was confirmed.
“Silver is more precious for me than gold because it’s been such a long road to the final,” Berinchyk told reporters.
“My opponent was very good but I gave everything I had in my previous bout. I couldn’t show my best today.”
Sotolongo’s teenage team mate, the thrilling Robeisy Ramirez Carrazana, has a chance of a second Cuban gold on Sunday, to go alongside two bronze medals won in the bantamweight and lightweight categories.
Berinchyk’s colleague Vasyl Lomachenko can add to the gold won by Ukrainian heavyweight Oleksandr Usyk, with whom Berinchyk appears to share the same barber.
Losing semi-finalists in the light-welterweight class, Vincenzo Mangiacapre of Italy and Munkh-Erdene Uranchimeg of Mongolia, returned to the arena on Saturday to accept their bronze medals.
Additional reporting by Patrick Johnston; Editing by Greg Stutchbury and Michael Holden