His coach killed his sis, then himself

Yoel Finol (above) of Venezuela competing in the men's flyweight (52kg) semi-final against Uzbekistan's Shakhobidin Zoirov. The Venezuelan lost and settled for the bronze.
Yoel Finol (above) of Venezuela competing in the men's flyweight (52kg) semi-final against Uzbekistan's Shakhobidin Zoirov. The Venezuelan lost and settled for the bronze.PHOTO: REUTERS

RIO DE JANEIRO • Boxing has always attracted characters with hard-luck stories, bad boys who earned redemption or fighters who beat the odds for shock glory.

But the disturbing story of flyweight Yoel Finol, who celebrated winning Venezuela's first boxing medal in 32 years on Friday, takes some beating.

The 19-year-old had always dreamt of gold but was still delighted to finish with a bronze after a heartbreaking defeat on points by Uzbekistan's Shakhobidin Zoirov in the flyweight (52 kg) semi-final.

The medal caps an extraordinary journey for the Venezuelan, after he was lured into boxing by an uncle and then trained by his brother-in-law Edwin Valero, a two-weight world champion who ended his career unbeaten with 27 wins, all by knockout.

Despite his success, Valero's life began to unravel in a blur of alcohol and drugs and in April 2010, he fatally stabbed his wife Carolina - Finol's sister.

Two days later, while in police custody, Valero committed suicide.

In the aftermath of the tragedy, Finol vowed to win Olympic gold but had to earn money the only way he knew - fighting on the streets to earn cash to fund his ambitions.

"Those are things that can happen in life," he said of losing his sister in such brutal fashion.

"It was really sad because I lost my sister but it's been six years and those are things that you overcome.

"I've forgiven him and I'm OK now. The drugs changed him because he was not a bad person.

"Life changes when you win a medal, not only as a human being but as a sportsman. I still need to get back to my country and see how things are going to be but I know my life is going to change."

He is optimistic about even better days in the ring too, with the 2020 Tokyo Olympics already on his radar. "I still have a long career ahead of me and I believe that every day we get better at handling ourselves in the ring," he said.

"Tokyo is still four years away and little by little I'm going to learn a lot before that happens."

Zoirov - whom Finol gamely kissed on the top of the head and applauded when the decision came through - will go up against Mikhail Aloyan in today's final after the Russian outpointed China's Hu Jianguan.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 21, 2016, with the headline 'His coach killed his sis, then himself'. Print Edition | Subscribe