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Going for Gold in 2016

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CHAMP: Qais Ashfaq says he is ready to win Gold in the Rio Olympics this summer

CHAMP: Qais Ashfaq says he is ready to win Gold in the Rio Olympics this summer

Olympic medal and pro debut targeted for Leeds’ boxing ace

Since he was just eight-years-old, Qais Ashfaq has dreamed of winning a Gold medal at the Olympic Games, boxing his way through the amateur divisions before landing on the GB Podium team.

Today he is ranked ‘number one in the country’ in the amateur bantamweight division, and is one of the nation’s biggest hopes for a medal in Rio this summer.

At just 22-years-old, few would doubt that a long and successful professional boxing career lies in wait for the Leeds fighter, yet there is one target he is determined to achieve before taking such a step.

“I go into every competition the same way and focus on winning a Gold medal. The Olympics are no different,” he said. “Last time I was still too young for the 2012 games, and Luke Campbell was fighting in my category.

“I know most of the lads now in my weight division and I know I can beat them. I have faced the World Champion twice and am confident I can win Gold this summer.”

Ashfaq completed his first training camp of the year in Sheffield last week and is already eyeing up his first tournament in Hungary on 3rd February.

HIGH HOPES: Ashfaq is currently number one in his weight division nationally

HIGH HOPES: Ashfaq is currently number one in his weight division nationally

Bouts in London and Germany follow before the Olympic qualifiers arrive in March/April, when the heavy-hitter travels with fellow boxers to Turkey.

At the top of his weight category nationally and the top of his game generally, he just cannot wait to get into the ring.

“It’s great to be coming into 2016 as the number one in my division with Team GB, but I know I have to keep training hard to retain that spot,” he said.

GOLDEN TOUCH: After the Olympic Games, the Leeds fighter is preparing to turn professional

GOLDEN TOUCH: After the Olympic Games, the Leeds fighter is preparing to turn professional

“It keeps me motivated seeing some of the talent that we have in our team as well as the fact that we are so close to the Olympic Games.

“At the moment I’m still quite relaxed about everything to be honest, not anxious. I’m looking forward to the tournaments and can’t wait for the qualifiers.”

Following the Olympics, Ashfaq plans to turn professional – hopefully with a Gold medal around his neck.

He has over 15 years experience in the sport and has competed in nearly every amateur contest there is. However, he also accepts that there is still a long way to go in the sport.

“By going down the amateur route, it gives boxers the chance to climb the ladder and build a name for themselves,” he said. “I am fortunate to be in the position I am in, representing the country and competing in the biggest tournaments I possibly can.

“The likes of Amir Khan, who knows what I am going through at the moment, are people I look toward for inspiration. He went down this road before making it in the professional game and I know I can do it too.

“It’s all about timing and after the Olympics, I know I will be ready.”

Golden touch

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CHAMPION: Harris Akbar clinched Gold in the welterweight boxing category at the Commonwealth Youth Games

CHAMPION: Harris Akbar clinched Gold in the welterweight boxing category at the Commonwealth Youth Games

Bradford boxer clinches top prize at Commonwealth Games

A heavy-hitting teenage boxer from Bradford took the biggest step in his youth career earlier this month as he scooped Gold at the Commonwealth Youth Games in Samoa.

16-year-old Harris Akbar travelled to the Polynesian Island as part of Team England, competing in the biggest tournament of his short career to date.

Having represented the country previously at junior level, it was the first time that the Grange Technology College student had stepped up to the international Youth’s (16-18-year-olds).

GOLDEN: Harris Akbar describes the victory as ‘the biggest achievement of his life’

GOLDEN: Harris Akbar describes the victory as ‘the biggest achievement of his life’

To qualify, Harris won Gold in the national welterweight competition and the Four Nations, before being picked as the youngest member of Team England’s boxing squad for Samoa.

Fighting his way through to the final, the young ace faced off against Northern Ireland’s Brett McGinty for the prestigious Gold, and eventually picked up a unanimous points victory.

“It’s indescribable how it felt to win the Gold,” he said. “I was confident in myself going into the tournament but to have a Gold medal is the biggest achievement in my life.

“Fighting in Samoa was hard, it was really warm and the flight there took over 24-hours so that had an impact as well.

“The final was my toughest fight. [McGinty] was a stocky guy with a lot of power in his punches but I knew that if I kept him at reach I would be fine.

“I knew I had won after the fight and it really is hard to describe the feeling.”

Taking up the sport at the age of ten, after trying out ‘every other sport’, Harris fell in love with the action-packed world of boxing, citing amateur legend - Guillermo Rigondeaux, as his inspiration.

Currently training at Bradford College’s Boxing Academy, he says he hopes to continue progressing in the sport and compete at the highest amateur levels.

“I want to keep going in the sport and keep progressing,” he said. “My dad is a big motivator and so are my coaches who help me with everything.

“My aim is to compete at the Olympics one day and just keep going forwards.”

Bradford College Boxing Academy Coach, Mally MacIver, said he was always backing the local Bradfordian’s chances heading into the Commonwealths and sees a big future ahead.

SUPPORT: Bradford College Boxing Academy coach, Mally MacIver, says Harris has a big future ahead of him

SUPPORT: Bradford College Boxing Academy coach, Mally MacIver, says Harris has a big future ahead of him

“I knew he’d do it before he went and was quietly confident as long as he stuck to his routine,” he said.

“He was the youngest lad in the competition so it is a huge achievement for him and I think he will go a long way in the sport if he keeps his head down.

“Hopefully he can follow on from the success of other boxers from the college and get into the GB Podium team then onto the senior Commonwealths and Olympics.

“There is definitely more Gold in his future.”

Harris’ next challenge comes in Poland later this year as he travels with Team England once again in hope of clinching a European Youth Games Gold medal.

Gold Standard

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A local martial arts ace picked up a prestigious Gold medal last weekend as he led by example for his students at the national championships.

Zeeshan Zafar, from Bradford, clinched the top accolade in his weight division at the UK All Style Martial Arts Championships held in Dewsbury Sports Centre.

CHAMPION: Zeeshan Zafar, chief instructor at Huddersfield’s T.A.G.B club, was awarded a gold medal at last weekend’s championships whilst his students also added to the medal haul

CHAMPION: Zeeshan Zafar, chief instructor at Huddersfield’s T.A.G.B club, was awarded a gold medal at last weekend’s championships whilst his students also added to the medal haul

Competing in the 75kg black belt individual sparring event, Zeeshan was awarded the Gold medal for his outstanding efforts and performance, subsequently also picking up the title of All Styles Martial Arts Champion.

The tournament was open to all styles meaning a vast variety of martial arts fighters from across the UK were on display from karate, kick-boxing, kung-fu and MMA.

“It was a great achievement to come away with the medals and I was so proud of the whole club,” Zeeshan said.

“It was great to see such a high level of performance from our team and everybody competed to the best of their ability in every contest.”

The 28-year-old Tae Kwon Do instructor was competing on behalf of the Huddersfield-based Tae Kwon-Do Association of Great Britain (T.A.G.B) club, and was delighted to see his students excel in the tournament as well.

On top of the his own medals haul, members of the T.A.G.B class also came away with gold, silver and bronze medals, highlighting the progress the local team has made in recent years.

The club also entered a separate group into the Adult Black Belt Team Event, which comprised of Zeeshan and two of his students, competing in full contact.

MEDALS: Zeeshan picked up Gold in the 75kg black belt individual sparring event, and was also named All Styles Martial Arts Champion

MEDALS: Zeeshan picked up Gold in the 75kg black belt individual sparring event, and was also named All Styles Martial Arts Champion

Taking on ‘Team Fightclub’, the T.A.G.B team had to settle for a draw in a thrilling encounter with Zeeshan performing a knockout punch to his opponent.

Despite the close-call, the referee had to make a decision and awarded the win to Team Fightclub, yet it was the experience of competing at the highest level which Zeeshan says he, and his team, will benefit from most.

He said: “Fighting in full contact was a tough experience and was certainly an eye opener to me in regard to the difference between semi contact and full contact competition.

“We were definitely going for the gold in every contest yet if each of our team members walked away knowing they have been the best they can be, they should be very proud.”

Huddersfield’s T.A.G.B classes train on Mondays and Wednesdays, between 6.30pm and7.30pm at the Highfields Community Centre, Cemetery Road.

Anybody interested in taking up Tae kwon Do should contact Mr Zeeshan Zafar on 07803 172 895.