Amir Khan: The Boxing Gods Smile on Britain
By David Payne (August 20, 2004) 
Amir Khan
Boxing in the UK, as an entity, needs a star. And in the precocious 17-year-old Amir Khan it may have just unearthed one. Great Britain’s sole qualifier for the Athens Olympics safely negotiated the first round overcoming Marios Kaperonis with a performance that grew from nervous to electrifying in the 309 seconds it lasted.
Kaperonis, a Greek wildcard entry, started brightly and Khan, appearing nervous and tentative, was bullied around the ring as Kaperonis built up a thankfully fleeting 3-0 lead. By the end of the round Khan’s class had begun to shine and he rallied to level the session at 6-6.

The second round was a clearer reflection of the talent disparity between the two as Khan forced a standing count with a flashing left-right combination. By now Khan was 7 points up and clearly finding his rhythm, the third round offered no respite for Kaperonis as the young Bolton-based starlet went through the full repertoire to force the stoppage on the 20 point rule. Khan landing 14 shots to one shot taken in the 69 seconds of the third round completed. Exhilarating stuff.

The youngster, hyped as a genuine medal hope, received a promising draw avoiding Cuban champion Mario Kindelan, 33, a fighter favoured to disrupt the fairytale and win the tournament. Khan, despite his junior status, has fought the vastly experienced favourite before and believes he's developed since the encounter in which Kindelan won on the 20 point rule, 33-13. There would be a poetic symmetry were Khan, the fresh-faced apprentice, to dethrone the ageing champion in the final. But there are plenty of opponents in the way before then.

Expectation is high despite Khan's tender years and the spotlight burns bright as Britain's only representative, a compound of the problems facing Amateur boxing and the rigours of trying to qualify through Europe, where the dissolution of the Soviet Union created stiffer competition. But the expectation is not the usual incongruous promoter hype built around Britain's professional prospects, this expectation is actually based on talent, and young Amir has bucket-loads of that stuff.
Rangy, with destructive power and blistering hand speed he possesses the tools to become a genuine world star. Whether Athens is an Olympics too soon remains to be seen and Friday's clash with Bulgarian European champion Dimitar Stilianov will provide ample opportunity for Amir to demonstrate his medal winning credentials. Stilianov has already reduced one Turkish competitor to tears; such is his frustrating back-foot, countering style.
How Khan deals with the experienced Bulgarian is hard to tell, Stilianov has fought at the higher light-welter limit and enjoyed international success, he's experienced, strong and awkward to catch and as such represents a massive hurdle for the youngster. In the UK, the hype will really begin if he wins on Friday and the realisation that as a fighter he could, just could emulate Terry Spinks, Audley Harrison and other illustrious predecessors who have won Olympic gold.

For a sport craving a new icon in its bid to rekindle public interest, the fight’s significance is hard to over estimate.
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