You will not see a surlier silver at this Olympics. The world apart from Piers Morgan seems to agree that winning any Olympic medal is a fantastic achievement. Ben Whittaker, runner up in the men’s light heavyweight boxing competition, did not see it that way.
After being awarded his medal for losing a split points decision to Cuban Arlen Lopez, Whittaker removed the silver from around his neck on the podium during the Cuban national anthem.
It was back in its rightful place, accessorising a Team GB tracksuit top, by the time he spoke to the press and answered a charge of behaving disrespectfully towards Lopez.
“I wasn’t trying to be disrespectful to him, it’s his moment and I never want to take the shine off him,” Whittaker said. “But it hurt me so deep and I felt embarrassed, truthfully, I couldn’t look up. A couple of years from this I’ll look back and think ‘what was I doing?’
“I should have taken it on the chin, put the beautiful silver medal round my neck and just smiled. It was not just for me, it was for the country.
“I’m a winner at the end of the day. If I’m playing Fifa with my mates and I lose I’m not talking to them for the next couple of hours. That’s just me, it’s been instilled in me as a kid.”
When the dust settles and the small cut on his upper lip heals, Whittaker may reflect on a credible performance here at the Ryōgoku Sumo Hall. Lopez won at middleweight at Rio 2016 and has classily sailed through three bouts en route to this final, winning unanimous points decisions in each.
A split decision, albeit by four judges to one, represents a small victory for Whittaker, a Wolverhampton native who moonlights as a musician under the name B£NZO. He hopes to turn professional after these Olympics and certainly has the charisma required, mugging for the camera during his walk to the ring then looking reassuringly calm and loose before the first bell.
His approach appeared to be containment. Lopez was kept at a respectful distance with Whittaker appearing vulnerable every time they tangled. The Brit grew more expansive in the final round, when patently needing a big finish. One huge uppercut missed narrowly and felt like the revelation of his secret weapon, perhaps designed to catch Lopez’s tendency to sit low after attacks.
“I didn’t have the right gameplan, he was a lot better than I thought,” said Whittaker. “He’s two-time gold medallist for a reason.
“I never thought I’d get the chance to fight him and it was a pleasure. Idols turn to rivals. I wouldn’t say I was in awe of him but I really respected him. It was a weird one but he’s a fantastic boxer, hopefully one day I get to see him again and right that wrong.”
Still, it was the heartbreak of missing out on gold which was in the forefront of Whittaker’s mind. “I truly woke up this morning and believed it was my time.
“I had the whole of the West Midlands behind me, Great Britain, and I just felt like a failure. I couldn’t celebrate the silver at that time and I don’t think I can just yet, but when I look back in a few years it’ll probably be a great achievement, but I’m just so upset, I wanted that gold.”
Among those consoling Whittaker was GB Boxing’s captain Frazer Clarke, who won bronze before Whittaker’s fight and was altogether happier with his day’s work.
Clarke came out worst in his opening round of a super-heavyweight semi against Uzbekistan’s Bakhodir Jalolov but rocked his opponent with a fierce straight left in the second round, leading to a standing eight count. Unfortunately, Clarke sustained a cut above his right eye in the third, which a medic attempted to patch up twice before the fight was stopped.
«I’m an Olympic bronze medallist, I never saw that happening for me,” said Clarke. «It’s not the fairy-tale that I wanted but I’m proud of myself, it’s a great effort. To get in there with one of the best, it’s a pleasure and an honour for me. I’m proud of myself and the whole team.”
Those words may ring hollow for one team-mates in particular.