Boxing: The Val Barker Trophy
PUBLISHED: 12:00 05 April 2020
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The Val Barker Trophy was first awarded at the Olympic Games in Berlin in 1936, with Barker presenting it to American Louis Laurie, a bronze medallist in the flyweight division.
The emphasis was very much on style and winning an Olympic gold medal was not necessarily a pre-requisite to being considered for the trophy. We have to go back until 1988 which was the last time a non gold medallist won the Trophy.
But who was Val Barker?
A successful amateur boxer who won the ABA heavyweight championship in 1891, in the colours of the Belsize ABC, and later moved into amateur boxing officialdom, becoming the first Honorary Secretary of the Federation Internationale de Boxe Amateur (FIBA) in 1920, the year in which it it was founded.
Barker ceased to be Honorary Secretary in 1932 but became Life President until his death in 1941.
FIBA was dissolved in 1946 with the Association Internationale de Boxe Amateur (AIBA) becoming the sports’s overall governing body, which still administers amateur boxing in the Olympic Games today.
Back in England on the domestic front, Barker was President of the ABA from 1926-29 and in 1936 FIBA dedicated the trophy in his honour which has been awarded at Games ever since.
Overall, there have been 20 winners of this prestigious award, 19 men and so far one woman and only two, apart from Louis Laurie, were not Olympic champions.
Laurie won the third-place bout when his Argentinian opponent Alfredo Carlomagno was unable to box. In those days the bronze medal prize was contested between the two losing semi-finalists.
Earlier in the competition, the American had lost his semi-final to eventual silver medalist Gavino Matta of Italy.
Then came Kenyan bronze medalist Philip Waruinge at featherweight, the first black African boxer to win the trophy, and next a certain multi-talented American silver medalist named Roy Jones Jnr who was the victim of a controversial decision (3-2) in favour of South Korea’s Park Si-Hun in the light-middleweight final in Seoul in 1988.
Waruinge lost to the eventual Mexican gold medalist Antonio Roldan in the semi-final in Mexico City in 1968.
Boxers from the following countries have won the coveted trophy: USA (6), relative newcomers in their own right Kazakhstan (3), Italy (2), Cuba (2), South Africa (1), Great Britain (1), Kenya (1), the former Soviet Union (USSR (1), Russia (1), Ukraine (1) and lastly Uzbekistan (1).
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The trophy was not always a passport to future success in the professional game, but it was certainly no deterrent either!
Only the following won world titles – Italians Giovanni Benvenuti and Patrizio Oliva, who gold in Rome 1960 and Moscow 1980 respectively at welterweight and light-welterweight; Jones Jnr; Vassiliy Jirov, a gold medalist in the light-heavyweight division at Atlanta in 1996 and Ukraine featherweight Vasyl Lomachenko in Beijing in 2008.
The following later boxed for world titles but didn’t win them – Philip Wariunge, featherweight bronze in 1968 in Mexico City; Howard Davis Jnr, lightweight gold in 1976 at Montreal and Paul Gonzales, light-flyweight gold in 1984 at Los Angeles.
Both Laurie and South African George Hunter, who won gold at light-heavyweight in London in 1948, turned professional but did not ever box for a world title and indeed their paid careers did not achieve that much.
Eight gold medalists remained throughout their careers as “true blue amateurs” including American Norvel Lee (gold at light-heavyweight in 1952 at Helsinki); GB’s Dick McTaggart (gold at lightweight in 1956 at Melbourne); the former Soviet Union’s Valeri Popenchenko (gold at middleweight in 1964 at Tokyo); the late great Teofilo Stevenson (gold at heavyweight in 1972 at Munich); the late Cuban Roberto Balado (gold at super-heavyweight in Barcelona in 1992); Russia’s Oleg Saitov (gold at welterweight at Sydney in 2000); Kazakhstan’s Bakhtiyar Artayev (gold at welterweight in Athens in 2004) and finally Kazakhstan’s Serik Sapiyev (gold at welterweight in London 2012).
In Rio, for the first time, two trophies were awarded, to Uzbekistan’s male light-flyweight Hasanboy Dusmatov and to American middleweight Clarissa Shields, who had retained the Olympic crown she had first won at London 2012.
This was the first time the trophy had been awarded to a female boxer and quite right it was too. It was probably a close call for the American boxer as Team GB’s very own flyweight Nicola Adams had also retained her Olympic crown in Rio.
We still await the first boxer from the South American continent to receive the Val Barker trophy.
After the Rio Games, both Dusmatov and Shields both elected to turn professional.
He is only just making his way in the paid code, however the unbeaten Shields is already a multiple female world champion in three weight classes and must rank therefore as the best female boxer overall in history.
There has been quite a spread of trophy winners across the various weight divisions over the years, with bantamweight the only category not to have a Val Barker Trophy recipient so far.
The successful weight divisions are: welterweight (4), light-heavyweight (3), lightweight (2), featherweight (2), light-flyweight (2), flyweight (1), light-welterweight (1), light-middleweight (1), middleweight (2), heavyweight (1) and super-heavyweight (1).
After Barcelona in 1992, a new order came along with three Kazakhs, a Russian and a boxer from the Ukraine taking the coveted trophy.
In 1992, it was a Cuban and four years previously an American, the “old guard” so to speak, so things are changing in the Olympic ring, although with all these matters it is opinions and choices that matter, whether we agree with them or not.
It is so pleasant to see a trophy instituted some 80 years ago being contested so keenly every four years. It reflects the continuing spirit of the Games and the proud place which amateur boxing holds within the wider Olympic movement itself.
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