By Padraic Halpin
LONDON (Reuters) - Defending Olympic champion Zou Shiming of China survived a tricky opening bout at the London Games on Saturday and had to call on all the know-how that delivered three world amateur titles in seven years to edge Cuba's Yosbany Veitia Soto.
Fleet-footed Soto, who impressed on his way to the quarter-finals of the world amateur championships last year, was the busier fighter throughout and the 20-year-old delivered a serious challenge to Zou's light-flyweight dominance.
But the seasoned Zou, almost 11 years Soto's senior, stayed calm and landed one opportunistic punch after another, winning each round by a single point for a 14-11 victory.
"As number one, there is always pressure but pressure brings out the fighting spirit," Zou, who fights Birzhan Zhakypov of Kazakhstan next, told reporters through a translator.
Zhakypov, a bronze medallist at the world championships in 2005, came from two points down going into the final round to edge out Mark Barriga, the Filipino fighter nicknamed 'Little Pacquiao' after his country's boxing great Manny Pacquiao.
If Zou wins that fight, he could set up a rematch of his 2008 Beijing semi-final against Ireland's Paddy Barnes, who four years ago left the Olympics stunned that he did not score a single point in a 15-0 loss to home favourite Zou.
Barnes, who eased to a 15-10 win over Cameroon's Thomas Essomba and has India's Devendro Singh Laishram next, has had a long wait to make his London Games bow.
And while his team mates have been chasing famous Olympians around the athletes village for their autographs to see who can collect the most the Belfast man said he had been harassed for his signature by some big-name sprinters.
"I've been walking around the village getting chased by all these athletes," he told reporters, tongue firmly in cheek. "(Usain) Bolt, (Asafa) Powell and Tyson Gay chasing me for autographs and pictures. I had to stop giving them."
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)