Galal Yafai was at a crossroads after the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio. The Team GB boxer could either hang up his amateur gloves and wear the professional ones, or train for four more years and go for one more try at the Tokyo Games.
Having his elder brothers Khalid and Gamal already on the the professional circuit, that seemed like his obvious choice. But a 23-year-old Galal took the second route. Having been defeated in the second round of the light flyweight category, he was determined to wait for four more years and be stronger and better for Tokyo.
However, he knew that if he waited for the next Olympics he would be 27 by the time he turned professional, which is relatively late in the boxing world. But Galal wanted to have an Olympic medal around his neck before takes his first step on the professional ring. After all, he had trained for the Olympics for only six months before the Rio, having been slotted into Team GB’s Olympic programme as a late entrant. Galal knew, with more training, he had the calibre to aim for Olympic glory.
The coronavirus pandemic and the postponement of the Tokyo Games has derailed his plans. On March 30, when the International Olympic Committee announced that the games have been postponed by a year, Galal found himself at the same crossroads again.
After securing Olympic qualification just two weeks earlier, he was ready to prepare for his final amateur bout at Tokyo. The postponement meant he has to wait longer, potentially losing one valuable year before he turns professional.
“It was frustrating. But what can we do?” Galal asked.
“I wanted to be a professional after Tokyo, but I had a feeling that the Olympics was going to be postponed. At that time it was really bad what going on around the world. So it would have been crazy if I thought the games would go ahead.”
Although the thoughts of giving up his Olympic dream creeped up on him, Galal did not want to give up the spot that he earned with rigorous training for four years.
“I was open to thinking about the options. But I did not want to give away my Olympic place either, because I worked four years for it. I did not want to give it away to someone else. I had worked hard and I had won my Olympic place.”
His determination to stay positive comes from his roots.
Galal grew up in a boxing family. Khalid represented Team GB at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, won the vacant WBA super-flyweight title in 2016 and retained the title on four occasions. Gamal won the WBC International super-bantamweight title in 2017.
“We used to fight with gloves on from the time I was 8-9 years old.”
Yet, it took him 10 years to choose boxing as his career too.
“I had my first fight at 18. But because I used to fight with my brothers, I felt I had the experience of being in 20-30 fights. I was in and around the ring since I was 14. But it was always for a week or two. But I had an advantage because we brothers always used to spar at home.”
The Rio ticket came five years later. “I qualified quickly for the Olympics. But I didn’t have much experience then. I have only had around 26 fights before that and had just attended a GB programme.”
Galal has had a different career path since his debut. “Most boxers fight for four years and go to the Olympics in the fourth year and then go pro after being in the programme for 4-5 years.
But it was just the opposite for me. I was in the programme before Rio for only around 6-7 months. So it was all new to me. I told myself that I will stay in the programme for four more years and I will be at the beginning again.”
Although he will be 28 next year, Galal believes his best professional years are still ahead.
“I’m definitely not like a 21-year-old. Ma be I will finish at around 34. My best years are from now and till may be 30. So I have to make the most out of these 3-4 years. It would have been better if it was this year that I turn pro. But what can I do? I just have to wait for another year.”
When in doubt, his brother Khalid is the one whom he always seeks advice from.
“He has been there before me and has done it all. If there is someone you have to listen to, it should be someone who has done it before you. And I got this privilege that he is my brother too. So it’s an advantage for me.”
Galal lives at Solihull in Birmingham. During the lockdown he used to train at his brother Gamal’s private gym. He has got back to the national training base at Sheffield after the government relaxed the lockdown rules.
With one more year to train his first target is to get back his fitness. And then return with a precious yellow metal from Tokyo.