The United States’ Antonio Vargas (Kissimmee, Fla.) and Gary Russell (Capitol Heights, Md.) qualified for the 2016 Olympic Games with quarterfinal victories on Thursday at the World Olympic Qualifying Event in Baku, Azerbaijan. After dropping close, hotly contested decisions at the Americas Qualifier in March, Vargas and Russell simply would not be denied in their second qualifying opportunity this week in Azerbaijan. Vargas will represent the United States at the flyweight division and Russell, the second brother in his boxing family to make the U.S. Olympic team, will compete in the light welterweight class in Brazil later this summer.
Vargas took the ring first on Thursday at the Sarhadchi Arena in Baku, facing off with Italy’s Vicenzo Picardi in the flyweight qualifying bout. Vargas showcased his unique and aggressive style in the match and the 2015 Pan American Games champion enjoyed success in the contest. He won a unanimous decision victory over Picardo to officially punch his ticket for Rio. Vargas, who’s known by his teammates for his his refusal to be intimidated by any opponent, has made a name for himself on the international scene through victories at the Pan American Games and previous youth tournaments. He often takes the harder route to get to his destination, coming through the challengers bracket at the Olympic Trials to win the domestic title and he duplicated that experience in international Olympic qualifying. Despite the obstacles he runs in to, Vargas always finds a way to get it done and he will now have a chance to win the Olympic gold medal he’s been chasing in Brazil.
“It still hasn’t yet me yet,” Vargas said just a few hours after his qualifying performance. “My focus is still on winning this gold and I have two more bouts to go. All I can say is ‘All Glory to God!'”
Russell has dominated his opposition since the beginning of the World Olympic Qualifying Event, making it clear early on that he wouldn’t be stopped from reaching his goal of the 2016 Olympic Games. His latest challenge came in the form of Jordan’s Obada Alkasbeh in their quarterfinal round bout. Russell pressed the action from the start of the match and kept his foot on the gas for all three rounds. His efforts were rewarded with another unanimous decision victory and a spot in the 2016 Olympic Games. The youngest of the boxing Russell brothers, Russell follows in the footsteps of his older brother Gary Russell, Jr., a 2008 U.S. Olympian and the current WBC Featherweight World Champion. Both Russell brothers came out of the challengers bracket to win the Olympic Trials before qualifying internationally for the Olympic Games. Gary Antuanne will now aim to win the Olympic gold medal that evaded his big brother eight years ago when he represents the United States this summer in the Olympic Games.
“I’ve always been an Olympian but it feels good to be one step closer,” Russell said. “Combinations, my jab and good defense have been the keys. You have to have a certain mindset where you are willing to change the strategy if needed and know you’re going to find a way to make it work.”
Both Vargas and Russell will compete in the semifinal round of the Americas qualifier on Friday along with American super heavyweight Marlo Moore (Hayward, Calif.). Vargas will face Mongolia’s Enkh-Amar Kharkhuu in the semifinal round while Russell takes on Richardson Hitchins, a Brooklyn-based boxer who qualified for the Haitian Olympic Team with a victory in today’s competition. Moore still needs two more victories to clinch his Olympic spot and will face Italy’s Guido Vianello in Friday’s semifinals.
Male light flyweight Nico Hernandez (Wichita, Kansas), male bantamweight Shakur Stevenson (Newark, N.J.), female lightweight Mikaela Mayer (Los Angeles, Calif.), male lightweight Carlos Balderas (Santa Maria, Calif.), female middleweight Claressa Shields (Flint, Mich.), and male middleweight Charles Conwell (Cleveland, Ohio) have previously qualified for the 2016 Olympic Games.
114 lbs/52 kg: Antonio Vargas, Kissimmee, Fla./USA dec. Vicenzo Picardo, ITA, 3-0
141 lbs/64 kg: Gary Russell, Capitol Heights, Md./USA dec. Obada Alkasbeh, JOR, 3-0