Jordanian role model packs punch at Games
LONDON—Ihab Almatbouli made history as he became the first boxer from Jordan to win an Olympic bout here on Monday.
The 26-year-old, put on a classy display to defeat Nigerian Lukmon Lawal 19-7 in a light-heavyweight contest.
Alamtbouli, who lives in and comes from the Palestinian refugee camp of Al-Baqaa (which has a population of around a 100,000) on the outskirts of Amman, was already the first Jordanian to qualify for the Games.
Now he hopes his latest effort will cement his role model status.
“I hope due to all my achievements I am going to be a role model especially to the young back home,” said Almatbouli, who relaxed in the third round and indulged in some crowd pleasing showboating.
“It will mean a lot back home in Baqaa to everybody as we are a tight knit community and everyone knows each other.
My brothers (he is the second oldest of six) are all boxers and will have been watching like most other people there.”
Almatbouli’s experience here was in marked contrast to when he collapsed in his corner starved of oxygen after a tough battle with a Chinese opponent in the 2007 world championships in Chicago.
He was unconscious for a minute and taken to hospital as a precaution.
Almatbouli said Monday’s win made up for that and other woes he has endured down the years.
“After all the difficulties I have had in my life I’ve never stopped sports and it has provided me with the greatest pleasure and escape route,” he said.
Almatbouli, who entered into the party atmosphere at the opening ceremony by placing an Arabic head dress on Olympic 100m defending champion Usain Bolt’s head, said he hoped his Games adventure would go on.
“It is great to represent my country and my people and to bring honor to it,” said the shaven-headed boxer.
“One hopes that God-willing this will continue and I will progress much much further. As for the Cuban clash (he next boxes Julio La Cruz Peraza) in the second round I may have a coach (Jorge Socarras) who is born in Cuba but his heart and soul is now Jordanian.”
Almatbouli, who received rousing support from the Jordanian delegation in the VIP seats, said that whatever happened in London, this Games would not be the end of his career in the ring.
“I will continue to the Games in Rio and then I will hang up my gloves,” he said.
While Almatbouli enhanced his role model status with the young, a member of the Jordanian delegation, speaking on condition of anonymity, told AFP his success would also have a hugely positive effect on the sport back home.
“By qualifying here (Asian qualifiers) and now this victory, the Jordanian Olympic Committee (JOC) will be looking more favorably at the federation and increasing its funding,” the source said.
Frank Maloney, former promoter of one-time world heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis, had donated some equipment to the country after a visit there and had given them some cause for optimism.
“He identified a lot of talent and drew comparisons with Russia when he first visited it after the Iron Curtain came down,” added the source.
“He said that like in Jordan, in Russia young aspiring boxers were coming up to him saying how much they adored boxing but had no shoes or gloves or anything.”
But Almatbouli’s success may just have remedied any equipment problems.