KIEV: World Boxing Council heavyweight champion Vitali Klitschko was acclaimed on Monday as the man who put Ukraine on the boxing map and salvaged the family reputation.
Klitschko stopped South African Corrie Sanders on Saturday to win the title vacated by Lennox Lewis a fortnight after his brother Vladimir lost his bid for the World Boxing Organisation version of the title.
“Dear Vitali, I watched your brilliant bout with interest and expectation,” President Leonid Kuchma said in a message to the 32-year-old Ukrainian. He later gave the boxer one of Ukraine's highest honours – the Order of Bravery.
“I believed in your victory and heartily congratulate you on it. Ukraine is proud of you. I wish you future victories.”
Despite moving to Germany, the Klitschko brothers are still revered in Ukraine.
The brothers' faces are plastered everywhere on billboards, advertising beer. An expensive book called “Our Fitness” is selling well and they often make packed-out appearances in the capital, Kiev.
Officials lament the fact that they left but understand they needed access to better equipment and facilities.
Some Ukrainians got up early on Sunday to watch the bout live while others tuned in to watch a repeat in the evening.
“This is our victory,” said one contributor to the chatroom on the Klitschko internet site www.klichko.com>.
One of the few Ukrainian newspapers published on Monday effused over Klitschko's “bombardment” of Sanders, saying the South African wilted under the Ukrainian's barrage of punches.
It also said his victory had enabled Vitali to rub out some of the pain of his younger brother's setback when he lost to American Lamon Brewster in Las Vegas.
“Can you imagine what psychological stress the elder Klitschko was under over the past two weeks? Across the world the Klitschko brothers are treated as one entity and so Vitali not only had to fight for the title, but also for family honour,” the newspaper Kievskie Vedomosty said.
“Now the surname Klitschko is on the same list as the greatest boxers in the world – Muhammad Ali, Mike Tyson, Lennox Lewis.” – Reuters