The University of East London is celebrating the amazing achievement of boxer Lawrence Okolie after he booked his place at this summer’s Rio Olympics in only his 23rd amateur bout.
He is the first UEL student to qualify for the 2016 Games after winning gold at the European Olympic qualifying tournament in Samsun, Turkey, on Sunday.
Lawrence, 23, is a UEL sports scholar and third-year Psychosocial Studies student, though he has deferred his final year with the agreement of the University to pursue his Olympic dream.
Fighting in the heavyweight (91kg) division, Lawrence needed to finish in the top three in Turkey to secure his Olympic place.
He clinched his berth with a brilliant semi-final victory over world No 3 Abdulkadir Abdullayev, of Azerbaijan, which BBC commentator and former world champion boxer Richie Woodhall described as the best performance by any of the GB boxers at the tournament.
Woodhall said Lawrence’s achievement was a “fairytale” given that he was still a boxing novice with so few fights under his belt.
On Sunday, Lawrence won the final with a walkover after his French opponent, Paul Omba Biongolo, decided to withdraw. Like Lawrence, Biongolo had already made sure of his Olympic place by reaching the final.
David Cosford, UEL's Director of Sport, said, "We are absolutely delighted for Lawrence in him making the selection for Rio 2016. He is such a humble and likeable character and is fiercely focused and ambitious.
"Lawrence would regularly talk about boxing for GB, and within 18 months he has reached his ultimate dream of representing his country in an Olympics. His journey from starting boxing in 2010 in order to lose weight, through to winning gold in the university championships, through to Olympic stardom is amazing.
"I myself am particularly looking forward to the summer as I will be part of the Team GB staff, with particular responsibility for the boxing team, so I will have a chance to give Lawrence the best possible support in his preparations in Rio. We all wish him well, and we are all in his corner!"
Lawrence is currently living and training with the rest of the GB Boxing squad at the English Institute of Sport in Sheffield, though he returns to his family home in Hackney at weekends.
In an interview shortly before the Olympic qualifying tournament, Lawrence said, “UEL helped me with my strength and conditioning, with access to top physios and support staff, making me a better-rounded athlete.
“Being at university strengthened my mental side too, helping me be a bit sharper, more disciplined and being able to take on instructions in the ring. Both are quite similar – one is exercising your brain, one is exercising your body
“University was going to be my main thing and I wasn’t going to be able to box but the scholarship allowed this dream to happen.”