Coronavirus threatens Olympic dreams of top Kiwi boxers

Author
NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Wed, 26 Feb 2020, 3:39PM
David Nyika and fellow boxers are stuck in Italy. (Photo / File)

Coronavirus threatens Olympic dreams of top Kiwi boxers

Author
NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Wed, 26 Feb 2020, 3:39PM

The Olympic dreams of New Zealand's boxers are literally up in the air as the aftershocks of the coronavirus continue to reverberate.

The team, headed by David Nyika and Jerome Pampellone, have been in training camp in Assisi, central Italy, ahead of the Olympic qualifiers in Jordan, but the rapid spread of the virus has seen some countries in the region shut borders to flights and ferries from Italian ports.

Israel has recently taken this step and Nyika and Pampellone face a race against time to get from Italy to Jordan before the Arab state does likewise.

"It's a complex situation," said Boxing New Zealand high-performance manager Mark Keddell.

"What we're trying to do is get those guys and girls out of Italy as quickly as possible so they can prepare for the biggest tournament of their lives.

"To be honest, they do not need this stress at this time, but as all Kiwis do, we'll take it in our stride and deal with it."

One of the biggest difficulties is the fact that Assissi – famous for being the home of the Saint Francis who spurned a life of luxury to live in poverty – is not a transport hub and cash-strapped Boxing NZ must find a way of getting their fighters to Jordan in the quickest possible time.

Keddell is also working with the Jordanian Olympic Committee to work around Jordan's 14-day quarantine on non-Jordanians entering the country.

Trouble has followed this campaign around, with Keddell describing the setback as "round two" in boxing's fight against the virus, which had already seen the International Olympic Committee cancel the Asia-Oceania qualifying event in Wuhan, the original epicentre of the pandemic, which was scheduled to run from February 3-14.

Jerome Pampellone. Photo / Photosport

Jerome Pampellone. Photo / Photosport

The team was training in Thailand ahead of the Wuhan meet and had to perform logistical somersaults to get back to New Zealand.

New Zealand's two best hopes for qualification are Nyika and Pampellone.

Nyika, the two-time Commonwealth heavyweight gold medallist, is seeking to make his first Olympics after unluckily missing the Rio games.

Light-heavyweight Pampellone, a virtual unknown this time last year, has risen rapidly through the ranks after winning his first three fights at the world championships in Russia last year.

The top five fighters in each weight class in Jordan will qualify for the Olympics, with those missing out forced into a last-ditch qualifying tournament in Paris in May.