Work in Sports
Hopes hinge on Ricardos
Americans Juarez and Williams fight for gold
SYDNEY, Australia -- Not since I Love Lucy have there been this many Ricardos in the house, but a big showing by the U.S. on Friday night looks to be a prime-time hit come Sunday. That's when featherweight Ricardo (Rocky) Juarez and light-welter Ricardo Williams Jr. fight gold-medal bouts, the idea being that this team doesn't become the first one since 1948 to return without at least one tournament winner.
The U.S. figured to do much better than they is has, bringing two world champions here, but both light-flyweight Brian Viloria and heavyweight Michael Bennett bit the dust early on. And other talented fighters like light-middle Jermain Taylor and bantamweight Clarence Vinson stalled out at bronze. That U.S. fortunes would hinge on these two kids, one of them 20 and the other only 19, is kind of a surprise.
Williams' win sets up a gold-medal fight with Mahamadkadyz Abdullaev of Uzbekistan, the same fighter who out-pointed him in the worlds last year. But U.S. coach Tom Mustin predicts a better outcome, pointing out that both Juarez and Williams bought into the team's high-altitude training.
"Ricky's shape in the worlds wasn't that great," Mustin said. But after balking a bit, Williams, the most talented boxer in the program, came on board. "We had a training camp that was not that easy. And Ricky, after what happened in the worlds, did his homework."
Homework involved running intervals, four 600-meter runs that, when done right, keep the fighter going for the equivalent of a two-minute round. "The guys that could do it," Mustin said, "are the ones who are left." And conditioning played a part in both victories, but especially Williams'. After two rounds, he actually trailed, 25-19. But that's when, coming out of a break, Luna clocked him illegally. Williams was mad enough to storm back -- but, more likely, he was in better shape.
Mustin is especially feeling the pressure as his two remaining boxers prepare for Sunday's fight. An American shutout would not look good, especially as so many other countries have been doing so much better. As expected, Cuba had four fighters in the finals. But who would have thought Kazakhstan would have more than the U.S.?
"I don't want to be the first coach since 1948 to come home without a gold," said Mustin. And his only hope, as he admits cheerfully, are "two goofy 19, 20-year-olds."
Sports Illustrated senior writer Richard Hoffer is in Sydney covering the
boxing competition for the magazine and CNNSI.com. Check back daily to read
Hoffer's behind-the-scenes reports from Down Under.