KEIGHLEY boxer Muhammad Ali admitted his disbelief at reaching the Rio Olympics – but revealed he is now targeting the gold medal.

His qualification in Turkey last week was the culmination of a rapid rise to prominence since making the step up to senior competition just 12 months ago.

The former Bradford College student does not turn 20 until June yet will head to Brazil as one of the fancied contenders after winning the European Olympic qualifying event in Samsun.

"I can't believe it," confessed Ali, who initially thought his best chance of making it to the Games would be in Tokyo four years down the line.

But on the back of a stellar first senior year, which included English and Three Nations titles plus a silver medal in the European Championships, the flyweight booked his Rio place with a semi-final victory over Bulgarian Daniel Asenov before putting the icing on the cake with success in the final against Armenian Narek Abgaryan.

Now Ali is already setting his sights on trumping Amir Khan's Olympic silver-medal winning achievements at Athens in 2004.

Like Khan, the teenager has developed under the tutelage of trainer Mike Jelley at Bury Amateur Boxing Club.

He said: "Amir has been an inspiration and now I want to go one better and win the gold."

His confidence is founded not only last week's success but also last year's bout with world number one Elvin Mamishzada.

The Azerbaijani won on a technical knockout on his way to winning the World Championships last October when Ali was forced to retire with a badly cut eye, having impressed in the fight.

The Keighley ace said: "I now know I can compete at a high level and mix with the best.

"When I fought the world champion in Qatar, I felt I was dealing with him. I thought I was beating him until the cut."

The gash to his left eye was the same one that had forced Ali to retire from the European Games at Baku earlier in the year.

Still getting used to boxing without headguards after stepping up to senior level, the former Ermysted's Grammar School pupil admitted he has modified his all-action style.

"I kept getting cut and had to learn from my mistakes," said Ali.

"When it happened again at the Worlds, I thought I can't keep on like this or I'll have scars all over my face.

"I've adjusted my style and I'm boxing more. I've come back from Turkey without a scratch on me."

His Olympic-spot clinching semi-final win over Asenov was revenge for defeat in the European Championship final.

It was a unanimous points victory but Ali revealed it was a real struggle because of what was at stake.

"Because everything was on the line and it meant so much, I just felt zapped of energy.

"I just had to grind it out. It was pretty comfortable in the end but I was so nervous.

"I asked some of the other guys in the squad if they had felt the same about their semi-finals and they agreed it was horrible."

By contrast, his final triumph over Abgaryan, who had knocked out the number one seed, was a chance to express himself.

Ali said: "I could relax in the final. It was nice to end on a winning note and it also gives me more points in the Olympic seedings."

Eight other British boxers qualified for Rio as GB enjoyed the best record of the tournament.