Cantab boxer in ring for Beijing spot
Canterbury heavyweight Yamiko Chinula has to beat the Commonwealth Games champion and an Australian Olympian to get an Olympic Games boxing berth.
The 25-year-old flies to Samoa on Sunday in an 11-strong New Zealand team for the Oceania qualifying tournament.
Chinula, super heavyweight Isekeli Maama (Auckland), light heavyweight Zig Zag Wallace (Waikato) and welterweight Kahu Bentson (Auckland) are understood to be on Boxing New Zealand's shortlist for Beijing.
Fighters have to win an Oceania gold medal to secure a nomination.
Their Olympic fate will be decided by the New Zealand Olympic Committee selectors.
Chinula's coach, Phil Shatford, said his charge is in "the toughest division" at the Oceania tournament.
Brad Pitt - the fighter not the film star - is an Australian who won the Commonwealth Games heavyweight gold at Melbourne in 2006.
Adam Forsyth, a Perth-based New Zealander, lost out to Pitt for the Australia nomination at Melbourne but reached the quarter-finals at the 2004 Olympics in Athens.
Shatford - the New Zealand Olympic boxing coach in Athens - said Forsyth was "very unlucky not to get a medal" there.
Forsyth lost in the quarter-finals in Athens to Egypt's Mohamed El-Baz, who won a bronze, but the Australian's corner claimed there had been a judging error.
Shatford and Chinula both noted that the Oceania heavyweight field included handy fighters from Fiji, Samoa and Tonga.
"Yumiko has had a lot less fights, maybe 30, than Pitt and Forsyth, who'd be in the hundreds," Shatford said.
"But if he boxes as well as he has been, I'd give him a great show of beating them. If he wins gold over there then he'll definitely deserve to go to Beijing.
If you're going to go to the Olympics you have to beat those guys. There's no second bite of the apple."
Chinula said he had not yet fought Pitt or Forsyth because he missed last year's Oceania championships through injury.
"But Brad Pitt and I both fought the Chinese champion (Yushan Nijati) at the world champs last year and we both got beaten by pretty much the same margin. I don't think there'll be too much in it (in Apia)."
Chinula said making the Olympic Games had been his goal since he first pulled on a pair of gloves at the relatively late age of 19. The quick learner, who has a New Zealand mother and a father from Malawi, was a first 11 footballer at Shirley Boys' High School.
But he found it too hard to fit football practices into his hectic study schedule as a mechanical engineering student at Canterbury University so he turned to the boxing ring instead in 2002.
He took 2003 off due to his university workload but he has been back in training since and won the last two national titles.
Chinula also became only the fourth New Zealand fighter to win a world championship fight when he beat Ghana's Commonwealth Games bronze medallist Yekeni Awusone in Chicago in November.
"That was definitely a great experience to have been at the world champs and to know you can compete at that level," he said.
The New Zealand Oceania qualifying tournament squad, coached by Billy Meehan, is:
Super heavyweight: Maama, heavyweight: Chinula, light heavyweights: Wallace, Reece Papuni (Canterbury), middleweight: Nathan McEwen (Canterbury/West Coast), Isaac Peach (Central Auckland), welterweights: Justin Potter (Central Auckland), Bentson, light welterweight: Daniel Parkin (Nelson), lightweight: Angus Donaldson (Manawatu), featherweight: Dwyane Williams (North Harbour).
Bouts begin on Monday with finals to be held next Saturday.