The World Boxing Championships in Chicago are serving as the first qualifier for boxers for next year's Beijing Olympics. VOA Sports Editor Parke Brewer is in the so-called Windy City, in the Midwest state of Illinois to cover the event and reports 80 Olympics berths are at stake.

The 12-day tournament began last week with legendary three-time world heavyweight champion and Olympic gold medalist Muhammad Ali making an appearance at the opening ceremonies

Five hundred fifty seven boxers from 107 countries came here to try to earn Olympic berths. The bouts are taking place at the Pavilion on the campus of the University of Illinois-Chicago.

Tickets are reasonably priced, ranging from only $10 to up to $100 for the Saturday's finals. A children's ticket was only $5 for the early rounds.

Originally these championships were supposed to be held in Moscow but Chicago agreed to step in as host only five months ago when the Russian city failed to meet financial obligations as required by the sport's world governing body.

International Amateur Boxing Association President Wu Ching-Kuo of Taiwan told VOA he is pleased with the competition.

"We usually give two years to prepare the World Championships, but since Chicago only had five months we are very impressed by the organizing committee's strong capability and high efficiency," said Wu Ching-Kuo. "The boxers are happy. Team officials are happy. The referees and judges are happy."

Wu invited International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge to attend Saturday's finals and he accepted. Rogge is scheduled to spend three days in Chicago, which is bidding to host the 2016 Summer Olympics. Wu said he believes Mr. Rogge will observe that Chicago is a very strong candidate.

Action at these World Championships takes place in two boxing rings at the same time, and scoreboards are clearly visible for the fans to see as bouts progress. Each is scheduled for four two-minute rounds, with the winner determined by the highest number of points awarded by a panel of judges.

On the first day that boxers could earn Olympic berths by reaching the quarterfinals, Britain's Bradley Saunders scored a convincing 24 to 12 win over American Javier Molina.

Saunders said it was a satisfying way to qualify.

"Fighting in America has proven one thing to me," said Bradley Saunders. "You go to every other country and you don't get fair decisions; you don't get fair judging. But America, for me, is one of the best countries. To beat an American in America with fair scoring is brilliant, brilliant."

American Shawn Estrada suffered the most difficult of losses in his elimination bout. He rallied to tie German opponent Konstantin Buga, 11-11, but the judges gave the decision, and thus an Olympic place, to Buga. Estrada took his defeat well.

"I did my best today and I thought I pulled it out in the end," said Shawn Estrada. "But I'm just happy to be here. I did my job. The judges were doing their job. But, you know, sometimes you're not happy with the decisions they come out with."

Most boxers, like Shawn Estrada, who don't qualify for the 2008 Bejing Olympics at these World Championships will still have two more opportunities at regional meets next year to earn berths.