Mitchell went to Marquette, Mich., in 1989 to run the U.S. Olympic Education Center boxing program, and later he persuaded Reid to follow him and get his high school diploma in Marquette. When Reid considered turning pro two years ago, Mitchell told him not to. Whenever Reid needed prodding to work out on winter mornings, Mitchell was at the foot of his bed at 5 a.m. screaming, "Come on, chump! Get up. It's time to run!"
So it was perfect when on the Olympics' final weekend, Reid and Mitchell again found themselves alone together. As unlikely as it had seemed three weeks earlier, they were the U.S. boxing team's last hope. Though five other U.S. boxers—Tarver, heavyweight Nate Jones, lightweight Terrance Cauthen, middleweight Roshii Wells and featherweight Floyd Mayweather—won bronze medals, none fought the last two days. Reid clattered around the emptying Athletes' Village, waiting. "I felt lonely, very lonely," he said. "Just me and Al. I'm like, Hello! Hello! Where you all at?"
Good question. When the Olympics began, most observers figured the young U.S. team could win four gold medals: World champion Tarver was considered a lock, while Mayweather, super heavyweight Lawrence Clay-Bey and welterweight Fernando Vargas were given good chances. Reid was known mostly for the muscle damage he suffered in his left eyelid during the Olympic trials and for a bizarre episode in June when he was arrested for assaulting his girlfriend. The charges were subsequently dropped.
But Clay-Bey and Vargas bombed in the second round, losing tight decisions that the coaches, starting an unseemly trend, whined about to no avail. When Mayweather, perhaps the finest pro prospect in the bunch, lost a questionable decision in a semifinal bout with Bulgarian world champ Serafim Todorov, Mitchell accused the judges of corruption, and longtime U.S. referee Bill Waeckerle resigned as an international boxing official. Tarver, meanwhile, fattened up on hamburgers before his first bout—which he won, but with such a flaccid effort that he was booed—and then broke curfew the night Centennial Park was bombed. Ravelo was so angry that the next morning, as he was yelling at Tarver, he drove his fist through a wall.
"He was walking around like he had already won the gold," Ravelo said of Tarver. "I do a good job, and I'm not going to allow anybody to pull my reputation down because he thinks he's a superstar."
Tarver's lack of focus caught up with him in the semifinals. After the first round against Kazakhstan's Vasilii Jirov, Tarver abandoned the defensive style that had made him one of the most decorated amateur boxers in U.S. history. He panicked and slugged himself into exhaustion, so that he could barely raise his fists for the third round. Tarver survived the round but lost 15-9.
Though the U.S. would win twice as many medals as in Barcelona (six to three), the team underachieved. Meanwhile, the world's other boxing power, Cuba, was steamrollering the field. And when Cuban super heavyweight Alexis Rubalcaba entered the ring for his quarterfinal bout with Wolfgramm on July 31, the Tongan's defeat seemed inevitable.
Why not? The 23-year-old Cuban stands 6'6" with muscles seemingly carved from obsidian. The 26-year-old Tongan is a 309-pound building with feet, who had just 23 fights to his credit before Atlanta. Wolfgramm, a former rugby player who grew up mostly in New Zealand, trained at Michael Carbajal's Ninth Street Gym in Phoenix for three months before the Olympics. Those who had seen him in previous bouts weren't taking him lightly, for he has quick hands and moves surprisingly well. But Rubalcaba hadn't ever seen Wolfgramm fight. Within 30 seconds the Cuban was on the ropes, getting pummeled, and the crowd was chanting, "Tonga! Tonga!" Wolfgramm won the bout 17-12.
It was the first time Cuba had lost a super heavyweight fight in the Olympics. Beating Rubalcaba, Wolfgramm said, was his gold medal match. (In the semifinals Wolfgramm would outpoint Duncan Dokiwari of Nigeria but suffer a broken nose and wrist, and he would lose in the finals to Vladimir Klichko of Ukraine.) When the Tongan was asked if Alcides Sagarra, the gruff Cuban boxing coach who sometimes hands out gifts to opposing fighters, had given him anything after his upset win, he said, "A bad look. I went to shake his hand, and usually a coach will give you a smile or a nod. He didn't."
It was that kind of Olympics for the Cubans: they won four gold medals and three silvers yet suffered their two most disastrous boxing losses of recent times. When Mitchell shook Sagarra's hand after Reid stunned Duvergel, Sagarra didn't bother chatting. "He was mumbling," Mitchell said. "I don't think he was saying hello."