Listen to this article
It was not pretty to watch but on Friday night Amir Khan became the youngest boxer to reach an Olympic final since Floyd Patterson in 1952.
In three previous fights in the Athens boxing arena, Khan, 17, has looked at times cool and other times quite simply devastating. But his opponent on Friday, Serik Yeluov of Kazakhstan, had prepared a perfect strategy and for two rounds the British teenager was losing on points and running out of ideas.
But in round three, Khan adjusted his footwork, moved a few inches closer to his opponent and the change in tactics swung the balance of the bout. By the end of round three, Khan had turned a points deficit of 14-12 into a winning advantage of 27-21 and he was quite simply unstoppable. In the final round, the Kazakhstan soldier was repeatedly sent reeling by Khan's precision right cross and well before the final bell the travelling British fans were celebrating what they knew was a Khan victory.
In the final on Sunday afternoon, Khan will meet arguably the best boxer, amateur or professional, in the world when he once again steps into the ring with Cuba's Mario Kindelan.
The pair met in a pre-Olympic tournament in May and on that occasion Kindelan was a comfortable 33-13 winner. But a lot has happened in young Khan's life since that night.
Just a few weeks later Khan travelled to Juju, South Korea, for the world under-19 championship and defeated five opponents to win the lightweight title. Then came the start of the Olympics and the first of a series of four fights that have seen Khan progress to become one of Britain's stars of the Games.
“The first time I met Kindelan, I had never seen a tape of him and I did not have a plan,” said Khan. “The points score was not totally fair because I think it [should have been] a lot closer. But I know one thing: [next time we meet] I will be a lot better …I'm not sure he can be any better.”
Kindelan has been the main attraction in Cuban boxing for the last five or six years and in Sydney four years ago he comfortably won gold. Last year in Bangkok he completed a hat-trick of world championship wins.
On Friday night he fought a near-perfect four rounds to beat Russia's Murat Khrachev to set up what will be a fascinating final against Khan. “All the way through the tournament I have known that I would meet Kindelan for the gold medal and that has been part of my motivation,” admitted Khan, who during the last 18 months has won six major international tournaments. Kindelan can look effortless in the ring but at 33 there is just a chance that his reflexes have started to diminish and that his legs are susceptible to fatigue. That will give Khan hope that his incredible Olympic odyssey can end in gold.
* It has been a long wait but Ireland on Friday celebrated its first medal of the Athens Games when Cian O'Connor struck gold in the individual show-jumping event. O'Connor put in a perfect second round to finish with just four penalty points as Britain's Nick Skelton crashed out of the reckoning with a poor second round.
Get alerts on Sport when a new story is published