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Women's European Championships Preview Sofia November 14th-24th - Preview
by Michael O'Neill
November 14, 2016

(NOV 14)  Europe’s leading women boxers (minus of course those who have already turned Pro and those who are ‘taking a break’ after the Rio Olympics) , are this week taking part in the 10th edition of the EUBC Women’s European Elite Championships in Sofia, Bulgaria where some 140 boxers representing 28 nations are expected to take part.

The draw takes place Tuesday at the Sport Hall in downtown Sofia and with unequal numbers in some weight divisions a few preliminary round byes seem likely. There are 10 weight classes here, unlike the Olympics, as boxers between the ages of 19 to 40 will be eligible to compete (if born between January 1, 1976 and December 31,1997).

Weight classes are: 45kg – 48 kg, 51 kg, 54 kg, 57 kg, 60 kg, 64 kg, 69 kg, 75 kg, 81 kg, 81+ kg

Familiar names missing for one of the reasons above include Ireland’s London 2012 Gold medallist, Katie Taylor who has reigned supreme in the 60kg lightweight division since taking her first title in 2005, current World & Olympic champions, England’s Nicola Adams and Frenchwoman Estelle Mossely, whilst highly promising Italian Irma Testa, also at 60kg also remains at home.

Some had already turned Pro like Russia’s Sofya Ochigava. Another Russian medallist at 60kg Anastasia Belyakov is also notable by her absence, and also in that weight class no Savannah Marshall representing England. Indeed on paper anyway this is arguably the weakest Russian team for many years though we could be in for a few surprises.

Veteran Finn Mira Potkonen has entered at 60 kg as have England’s Sandy Ryan and Yana Alekseevna of recently of Azerbaijan (who as Yana Sidor represented Ukraine for several years though born in St Petersburg, Russia as was her sister (the former Anna Rogavich) now also representing Azerbaijan in these championships ,Anna Alimardanova.

Having spoken a lot about ‘absent friends’ let us also mention those who WILL be there and among the favourites will be: Romania’s ‘evergreen’ Steluta Duta (48kg) who first competed in this event in Riccione Italy back in 2004,Bulgaria’s own Stanimira Petrova (54kg), veteran Italian Marzia Davide(57kg), the aforementioned, Potkonen, Ryan and Alekseevna (60kg),and Ireland’s World silver medallist Kellie Harrington (64kg).

Main threat to Harrington is expected from England’s Chantelle Cameron and Italy’s Valentina Alberti whilst Poland’s Kinga Siwa has shown some excellent form in recent months. You can never discount the Russians and if there is to be a real surprise it could come from their Aleksandra Ordina also from St Petersburg.
 France’s 27 years old Erika Guerrier will be one of the favourites for the 69kg crown along with Azerbaijan’s Elena Vystropova whom she defeated in the recent Balkan tournament 2:1. Should they meet again another close fight is sure and could go to a split decision once more. Ireland’s 21 years old ‘up and coming’ Grainne Walsh from Sparticus Tullamore did magnificently in her first senior elite outing finishing 5th in the World Elites in Astana and is ‘one to watch’ again here.

In the Olympic 75kg class, Nouchka Fontijn of the Netherlands silver medallist to Shields in Rio is joint favourite together with Russia’s Iaraslava Iakushina though it must be remembered that she lost out to Ireland’s Christina Desmond in the European Olympic qualifier in Samsun earlier in the year. Desmond subsequently took Ireland’s first ever medal – a bronze – at the 2016 FISU World University Games in Chiang Mai, Thailand and has been showing good form in training as has the new English hope, Natasha Gale (replacement for the injured Savannah Marshall).

Maily Nicar of France is also rapidly improving and cannot be discounted. So some good up and coming talent as well as the current champions. A truly fascinating group.

The 81kg title will surely go either to Turkey’s Elif Guneri of the Istanbulsport club (a semi-finalist in the Worlds in Astana) OR to leading Russian Liubov Pashina Iusupova, 28, from the Khanty-Mansiysh region who took the 2015 World Petroleum title there. The Turkish boxer may edge this one but it will be very close if both in top form.

Finally to the 81+kg category, where the winner is likely to be another Russian, Zenfira Magomedalieka who boxes out of the Makhachkala club in Dagestan and that fine Turk, Sennur Demir from Bartin. Another one, too close to call though the Russian may just edge it on a split.

A truly fascinating week ahead, an opportunity to ‘unearth’ some new talent but certainly those not in Sofia will be greatly missed by the AIBA and their national federations.

What if anything did the AIBA offer them to remain with their National Federations or was the challenge of a new Pro career too great to ignore at a time when the AIBA is said to be in a far from healthy state, both financially and in the aftermath of all the Rio controversies in and out of the ring.

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