Ward represents U.S. boxing team's lone chance for gold
Posted: Friday August 27, 2004 5:20PM; Updated: Friday August 27, 2004 6:03PM
The underperforming U.S. boxing team lost one of its two Andres Friday when middleweight Dirrell lost his semifinal bout to Kazakhstan's Gennadiy Golovkin, falling out on points, 23-18.
But light heavyweight Ward, unbeaten now for six years, moved to a gold medal fight, edging Uzbekistan's Haydarov Utkirbek by 17-15. This is no minor consolation, even if this is the worst showing since 1948, when the team just won a single silver. If Ward did manage to add a gold to Dirrell's silver, well, that'll be the first gold for this program since 1996.
That's a dubious improvement but, as long as the 20-year-old Ward remains in play, we might as well focus on the positive, wherever we can find it. And there's no more positive boxer than Ward, who finds inspiration in unlikely places.
Highly religious, Ward said a fresh reading of the David and Goliath scripture gave him confidence against a much taller Evgeny Makarenko, when he upset the two-time world champion earlier in the week. This time, not feeling all that super coming into the bout, he was reassured by an Olympic village volunteer who approached him and told him he was "anointed."
Ward indeed had a lot to contend with. The crowd was wildly anti-American, booing him, and then cheering when he slipped or was thrown down. Utkirbek was a rough-and-tumble guy, and Ward couldn't be sure he wasn't scoring coming out of clinches, even though that's not supposed to happen in amateur boxing. Ward, rather unwisely, chose to fight inside with Utkirbek, instead of using his jab, and nearly paid the price. He was behind after three rounds and didn't score the decisive point until only 15 seconds remained.
But teammate Dirrell really had a bad time of it. Although a U.S. assistant coach pulled out the old conspiracy theory, saying certain countries seem to prosper with certain judges, Dirrell seemed ready to accept the fact that he was beaten, however closely.
So instead of two gold medal hopefuls, the U.S. is down to one Andre. We'll see on Sunday if Ward can make up for at least some of the disappointment this program has endured.