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Olympics guide: Boxing

Get ready for a knockout competition

Olympics guide: Boxing
03 May 2012

Essentially the key to boxing is punching the other contestant with more fervour than they punch you. Ideally with such gusto that their nervous system cuts out for a period of ten seconds. Apparently though, there's more to it than that. Here's our Olympic guide...

When? 6-21 August 2016

Golds up for grabs: 13

Olympic presence: Men 1904–1908, 1920–present; women are competing for the first time at London 2012 (though women’s boxing was a demonstration sport in 1904).

Olympic Format: Men compete in ten weight divisions; women in three. One boxer per nation is allowed in each weight category. Each competition is seeded and proceeds on a knock-out basis, culminating in a final. There is no third place fight – the losing semi-finalists both receive bronze medals.

Past Champions: USA : 50 | Cuba: 34 | USSR /Russia: 23


The basics

Olympic boxing is a simple sport at heart: the fighter who lands the most scoring punches wins. Alternatively, a bout may be won by way of knock-out, in which a floored opponent fails to get up from the canvas before the referee has counted to ten, or via disqualification or withdrawal. Punches below the belt or to the back are forbidden, as are holding, wrestling and tripping. To count, a blow must be landed with the white portion of the glove, which denotes the knuckles and the first bone of the fingers. Thumbs should rest on the upper joints of the next two fingers.

The Ring and the Seconds

Boxers fight in an elevated ring – 20 ft square, with a padded post in each corner. The edge of the ring is defined by a ‘fence’ made of four ropes. Men fight three 3-minute rounds; women do four bursts of 2-minutes. There is a rest period of sixty seconds between each round. Each boxer is allowed two assistants, known as seconds. Both are allowed to mount the apron of the ring and one is allowed to enter the ring between rounds. Their jobs include advising and encouraging their boxer, towelling them dry of sweat between rounds, attending to minor injuries and, if necessary, withdrawing them from the fight by throwing in a towel.

Weight Divisions

There used to be just eight weight divisions in boxing but at the Olympics the figure has risen as high as twelve. In Rio there will be ten for men (from Light-flyweight at 46–49kg through to Super Heavyweight at 91kg plus), and three for women. Competitors are required to attend a general weigh-in at the start of the tournament, at which boxers must register weights within the parameters of the divisions they are entered in. They are also subject to a weigh-in on the morning of every day they are fighting. Any boxer who fails to make the necessary weight is eliminated from the competition.

Ways of winning

The classic means to win a bout is a knock-out, when a fallen boxer fails to get back on his feet within a count of 10. Boxers can also win through the retirement of their opponent, indicated by their second literally ‘throwing in the towel’ into the ring, or by the referee stopping a contest and eliminating a contestant. Most commonly, though, bouts are won on points. If both boxers are still standing at the end of a bout, the one who has accumulated the most points (registered the most valid punches) is declared the winner. A referee can stop a contest for a number of reasons, including: boxer outclassed (where the referee deems one boxer to be taking excessive punishment); head blows (where a fighter is unable to defend themself after receiving one or more blows to the head); or disqualification. Referees can also issue a warning, for serious or persistent fouls. If a boxer is issued with a warning, two points are awarded to the opponent. Three warnings and you’re out.


All clean hits to the body or side or front of the head score 1 point. For a hit to be valid under the old scoring system, which applied to every Olympics between 1992 and 2008, at least three of the five ringside judges had to register it within a second of the punch being landed by pushing an electronic button. This system was widely disliked because judges frequently failed to act in time, whether by accident or design. So in 2011, a new code of points was introduced. Judges now score each boxer during the rounds, with no time limit on recording hits (beyond having to relay their reckonings at the end of a round). The score for each round is calculated on the basis of the three most similar scorings – the egregious verdicts of the other two judges are discounted. The ‘similar scores’ are then averaged.

Safety and Equipment

Boxing is potentially dangerous. This is particularly true of the professional game. You only have to look at a punchdrunk ex-pro to see the long-term effects of too many blows to the head. But at amateur level, extensive measures are taken to minimise the risks. These include fewer rounds, the wearing of head guards (and chest protectors for women), a maximum age of 34, and a ‘one punch, one point’ scoring system with no bonuses for high impact blows or knockdowns. There is also extensive medical supervision: for every bout, a boxer must be certified fit to fight by a doctor appointed by the AIBA Medical Commission, and there are complex rules about how long boxers who have suffered blows to the head of varying severity must wait before fighting again. One knock-out or rsch (Referee Stops Contest due to Head-blows) leads to a bar on competing for thirty days; three within a twelve-month period leads to an enforced 360 day break.

'Extracted from How to Watch the Olympics by David Goldblatt & Johnny Acton (Profile Books)'

(Image: Rex Features)