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Sports Illustrated Give Michael Conlan Top Billing In Their 'Athletes To Watch' Olympic Boxing Preview

Sports Illustrated Give Michael Conlan Top Billing In Their 'Athletes To Watch' Olympic Boxing Preview
By Gavan Casey
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We hope you got your shots, because Olympic fever is about to sweep the nation.

Earlier today we brought you the predictions of both the Associated Press and Sports Illustrated, with the latter predicting an extremely successful Olympics for Ireland - most notably, and unsurprisingly, our boxers.

With the opening bell ringing on the Olympic boxing as soon as Saturday, Sports Illustrated's detailed preview of the prestigious competition provides some fantastic insight into the US team, which - partially with the help of former Ireland coach Billy Walsh - will look to overshadow their semi-disastrous London predecessors despite not having qualified any male fighters in the three heaviest divisions. No American has won gold since current professional pound-for-pound star Andre Ward in 2004, and much of the American hopes will rest on 19-year-old bantamweight Sakur Stevenson (yes, he is named after 2pac).

In SI's 'Athletes To Watch' section within the same article, however, they provide a fairly sturdy reason for US fans not to put all of their eggs in Stevenson's basket: He shares a division with Ireland's European and World champion.


Say Sports Illustrated on the gold medal favourite:

The Belfast-born Conlan, 24, is likely to be the man in the way of Stevenson’s quest for gold. The reigning world champion and currently ranked No. 1 in the world at 123 pounds, Conlan has Olympic experience already, having taken a bronze in the 114-pound class at the London Games.

Though he started boxing as a kid (coached by his father, John), as a young teen, Conlan says, he led “kind of a double life,” running with a hard crowd on the streets of Belfast West. “I was involved in drugs and drinking from a young age, and stealing and vandalism” he recently revealed in the Belfast Telegraph. “I was young and stupid, but when I look back now I wouldn’t change it because I realize it’s made me who I am today.”

Conlan says he began to turn things around when he qualified for the Commonwealth Youth Games and realized that with focus he could succeed in boxing at the highest levels. The sport, he says, saved him from the kind of ruin he sees too many other young people falling victim to. Now engaged and the father of a 16-month-old daughter, he is also an ambassador for Aware NI, a mental health charity that works with those suffering from depression and bipolar disorder.

After the Olympics, Conlan knows that a lucrative professional career awaits, along with the chance to continue his outreach with even greater effect. For now, though, he is focused solely on his bouts in Rio.

“My preparation has been great,” he says, “and I feel that I’m just at the right place at the right time.”

As mentioned earlier, SI predict gold for the Belfast bantam.

Their 'Athletes to Watch' section also features one Katie Taylor, whose 'world's best' Sports Illustrated question, perhaps understandably so following defeats in both April and May:


Hugely popular in her native Ireland, Taylor was the face of the first Olympic women’s boxing tournament, at the 2012 London Games, winning in great style. She is also a five-time world champion and, coming into 2016, had not lost a bout in five years. But, at 30, is she still the world’s best? In April, Yana Alexseevna of Azerbaijan snapped Taylor’s 82-match streak, and at the world championships she lost to Estelle Mossely of France. Taylor remains a powerful force in the ring, however, and says, “I think I’m as hungry now as I ever was.”

They'll see. Oh, they'll see.

Catch the full preview here.


SEE ALSO: Why You'd Be A Fool To Write Off Katie Taylor At Rio 2016

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