In an interview with Kazakhstanskaya Pravda, boxer Serik Sapiyev told the story of the early defeats that later forged him into a champion.
“He was middle height, maybe less. Nimble, fast, less than 28 kilos. Sapiyev was no different from other guys. There were difficulties in his family, and his father sent him to boarding school. At that time, the kid was far from any success,” his first coach Aleksander Strelnikov recalled.
This is how the career of Sapiyev began in the well-known Abai boxing school, where famous boxers like Serik Nurkazov and Oleg Maskayev trained. The school was established by honoured couch of Kazakhstan Andrei Raish. Strelnikov had trained there as well. At first, Sapiyev and his brother played checkers and basketball. Later, their father insisted on boxing.
“Yes, we chose boxing when we were very young, but we did not realise what it would become for us,” Sapiyev said.
Tell me about your first success in boxing.
I achieved my first humble success in the championship of Abai city, when my brother and I took first places. What made this moment so memorable? At those times, we had financial difficulties, but we earned some money in that championship and gave it to our parents. Mom and Dad were really happy.
Did you dream about becoming a champion?
We used to have financial troubles; this is why we could not participate in championships outside the region. This also was one reason boxing lost its allure for me for a while. I wanted to go to university, but I did not manage to get a scholarship, and I could not afford a fee based education. I went on with my training.
Could you say that your partnership with Strelnikov was bearing fruit?
Yes, sure. I admit that I had to make myself work, and Strelnikov did well. Even when I won, he could find mistakes. At the same time, he gave credit as well. When I won the youth championship of Kazakhstan (age of 17-18), I believed in myself. This happened in Astana in 2001. Of course, I was happy that I had become a master of sports.
When was a period of major victories?
I remember when I participated in the finals of the Kazakh championship in 2003. It took place in the Karaganda circus. I won second place. I realised then that I can move forward. I got more serious with my training. The coaches found me promising.
Qualifications took place later – and this a separate topic. At that time, I faced unfair selections. I won three tournaments, but a boxer who lost to me in the finals went to the world championship. Later I found out that the decision was made beforehand, and no one even considered my candidacy. Not a big deal, its okay …
I started to participate in tournaments in Azerbaijan and Russia and gained experience. Then there was university and military service. I went to the Military World Cup on behalf of the Central Military Sport Club – I became the champion. After a month, at the Kazakhstan Cup, as an international master of sports, I became a champ.
What is the major lesson you have learned after all these difficult victories?
I have learned that the most important thing is to work hard and pursue your goal.
You are known as a thinking boxer…
A good boxer is separated from the rest by his head – how smartly you fight, what you can demonstrate in the ring, what makes you special, how you can foresee your opponent’s actions … This is like playing chess.
Do you play chess?
As an amateur – for fun. However, I can compete in checkers. Once, I played a game with Darmen Sadvakassov. Of course, I lost. Nevertheless, I played checkers with a player of this level – I would go toe-to-toe.
By the 2008 Olympic Games, Sapiyev had become a world champion in his weight class twice. He went to Beijing as a main contender for Olympic gold. However, on Aug. 17, in the quarterfinals of the Olympic fight, he gave way to Thai boxer Manus Boonjumnong. Fans were shocked. Angry online commentators within a moment dismissed him. Sapiyev started to think of retiring.
“I had a talk with Sapiyev. He said ‘that’s it, I give up on boxing.’ Later, people asked me what kind of words I said to re-convince him. Actually, our President Nursultan Nazarbayev convinced him during his meeting with sportsmen. He said, ‘Serik, I know you can,’” Strelnikov recalled.
I often remember that Olympics in Beijing. Serik was the strongest in his weight class. In 2007, he dominated in all his fights. Then he lost. Nevertheless, he did not lose his path – the path of a future Olympic champion. I think without that loss we probably would not have the victory.
What made you continue your path in boxing?
Now I understand those sportsmen who do not attract much attention when they come back without medals. Well, I personally received a lot of support – coaches, friends, family. I did worry; I wanted to quit, and to become professional. But my coach [Strelnikov] did a lot of work. He is the closest person to me. We went through losses and victories.
We know the rest of the story: London, finals, Olympic gold, the Val Barker Trophy, adoring fans. What is the most important precondition for your success?
My coach, and of course, temperament. I am a leader and I want to win.
Which moment of your life would you like to live through again?
The Olympics in London: the finals, the conference.
Surely, the story of this champion will continue. After the 2012 Olympics, Sapiyev was supported by the Federation of Boxing and started to work there as sports director. He studied sports management in London and is now heading the Astana Arlans sports club. He considers its victory in the World Boxing Series in 2015 a personal success.