You wouldn't expect it to happen to a trio that had some 50 years of experience in the U.S. Army, guys who supposedly live by the credo, "Hurry up and wait." But on Monday morning in Seoul, head U.S. boxing coach Ken Adams (master sergeant, Fort Hood, Texas); assistant coach Hank Johnson (sergeant, first class, Fort Bragg, N.C.); and middleweight Anthony Hembrick (specialist 4, a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne Division, Fort Bragg) were late for the biggest fight of Hembrick's life. As a result, the highly regarded 22-year-old was disqualified from his opening bout, and thus missed competing in the Olympics. Their excuse? That the 10 a.m. bus from the Olympic Village to Chamshil Students' Gymnasium, where Hembrick was scheduled to face Ha Jong Ho of South Korea, was full, and the driver wouldn't let them board.
Never mind that the Canadian boxing team, waiting for the 9 a.m. bus, had pushed its way through the door after the driver tried to shut the athletes out; or that Olympic volunteer Cho Yun Sung, a 22-year-old English literature major at Hong-Ik University who oversees the loading of the vehicles at the boxing bus stop, told SI's Rich O'Brien that Hembrick and the two American coaches arrived at the bus stop "after 10 o'clock. They didn't hurry, and they didn't ask me anything. The 10 o'clock bus was not full."
Cho also said that when he went to the American boxing quarters in the village that afternoon to find out about the problem, one of the U.S. coaches—he couldn't say which one—told Cho that if anyone asked about the incident, to say that the U.S. boxers arrived at the bus stop at 9:40 a.m., that the 10:00 bus was full and that they could not get on it. Adams says there was a "language problem" among him, Cho, another volunteer and team manager Wylie Farrier. Farrier disputes Cho's claim that the U.S. officials told him to lie: "We never tried to tell him to say anything."
In truth, the bus—full or empty—was a red herring in the affair. The sad fact of the matter was that the American boxing coaches misread the fight schedule and thought Hembrick's was the 11th bout of the morning program, instead of the fifth. Allowing 13-17 minutes per fight, Adams and Johnson estimated that Hembrick's bout with the Korean would take place between noon and one. Had that been the case, the 10:30 bus would have gotten them to the arena at least an hour early. The three Americans would have been on an 8:30 or 9:00 a.m. bus had they read the schedule correctly.
U.S. boxing officials at the venue knew something was amiss and tried to reach Adams and Johnson as fight time approached. They called the village but were told by Farrier that Hembrick and the two coaches had already left their rooms. When their bus finally arrived at the venue shortly before 11 a.m., Ha Jong Ho was standing in the ring, waiting. The referee was waiting. NBC was standing by live. Jim Fox, executive director of the embattled USA Amateur Boxing Federation, was arguing with International Amateur Boxing Association (AIBA) officials about the confusing schedule. Asked why NBC knew the time of the bout while the U.S. boxer and his coaches didn't, Fox replied, "Because NBC is running these games."
Oh? How was it that Ha found his way to the ring on time, as did every other athlete (there were more than 400) in this largest-ever Olympic boxing competition?
The gaffe, to be sure, was not entirely without precedent. In the 1972 Games in Munich, U.S. track stars Eddie Hart and Rey Robinson, two world-record-holding sprinters, missed their qualifying heats in the 100 meters because sprint coach Stan Wright misinformed them about their starting times. But the Hembrick fiasco was only the latest in a series of woes that have befallen Team Turmoil. In June, Adams was suspended from the team for allegedly trying to wring the neck of a U.S. boxing federation official; he was reinstated last month. In July, three of the 24 fighters scheduled to appear at the U.S. Olympic Box-off were sent home after testing positive for drug use.
Watching in disbelief in his warmup suit, Hembrick saw Ha waiting in the ring. Hembrick then rushed off to the dressing room, but it was too late. The referee waited the three minutes required by AIBA rules, then raised Ha's hand and declared him the winner in a walkover.
The U.S. boxing delegation protested the decision, of course, and on Monday night Taieb Houichi of Tunisia, chairman of the AIBA's Protest Committee, cast the deciding vote in a 3-2 decision to uphold the walkover. "This is a tragic situation, and I feel for Anthony," Fox said afterward in a prepared statement. "It is very unfortunate that he [Hembrick] is now deprived of the opportunity to compete as the result of an administrative error." Then Fox stormed past reporters, refusing to answer questions about the fiasco.
U.S. boxing suffered a major setback inside the ring when featherweight Kelcie Banks—a veteran of more than 500 amateur fights, the 1986 world champion and the only U.S. gold medalist in the '87 Pan American Games—was flattened in the first round of his opening match by Regilio Tuur of the Netherlands. The knockout, ironically, turned Banks into a prophet. Three days earlier he had boldly predicted, "Only way I lose this gold medal is if I get knocked out cold. I mean cold. I don't mean dropped two, three times. I mean cold."