- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
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- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
It was easy enough to explain. "The Americans," said Coach Zeravica, "take in their hands the, uhhh, the activities. After that, with our morale coming down, it is difficult to do anything with these Americans."
Then came Saturday night on the town—boxing finals at Sunnyside Arena South, an Olympic venue whose main concession to the Games was to hang white sheets over the A Cerveza M�s Fina beer signs. All week long the fans had been building for the occasion, yelling "rateros!" (bandits) at the officials and showering coins, oranges and Mexican bric-a-brac into the ring. After one spirited fight a photographer jumped in and pounded the referee with his newspaper. Mexican fight fans, Olympics or no Olympics, take the show seriously.
The U.S. squad, with four lefthanders, was not, by Coach Pappy Gault's standards, as talented as the 1964 team that won only one gold medal ( Joe Frazier's), but each man knew the complex international rules and all were determined to the point of dedication. None of the boxers left the Olympic Village for two weeks except to fight. They did not go for "that demonstration stuff," as Gault termed it, because they were proud to represent the United States. Of the 11 who started in the eliminations seven made it into the semifinals. Harlan Marbley, 25, a light flyweight from Washington, D.C.; James Wallington Jr., 24, a light welterweight from Philadelphia; John Baldwin, 19, a light middleweight from Detroit; and Alfred Jones, 22, a Detroit middleweight, came away from the semis a bit sadder (they lost their bouts) but still wearing bronze medals.
Featherweight Albert Robinson, 21, on leave from the U.S. Naval Air Station at Alameda, Calif., for a while came away with nothing at all—although he was, in his bout, walloping the frijoles out of Mexico's Antonio Roldan. Suddenly the blood came gushing from Roldan's forehead. Robinson had butted, the Russian referee said, although he made the call when Robinson was pounding merrily away on Roldan's head at arm's length. Robinson was disqualified, which cost him the gold and almost the silver. At first, that was denied him, as was the bronze. Fortunately, an appeal was upheld the next day and Robinson was decked in silver.
Lightweight Ronnie Harris, a 20-year-old Ohioan, won a gold medal and later noted that he had been both sick and scared but that he had prayed to God and that his faith had pulled him through. From ringside it looked like faith and good counterpunching, but no matter. The stage was now set for the heavyweight finale.
George Foreman, the lyrical 19-year-old 218-pounder from Houston, ruined Russia's balding 29-year-old Iones Chepulis with approximately 200 left jabs that caused Chepulis' nose to bleed quite a lot and eventually led to a halt in the second round. After the fight Foreman received a cluster of roses from someone at ringside and promptly presented the bouquet to the Russian—they matched his nose nicely—and then grabbed up a little U.S. flag from Pappy Gault and kissed it for the crowd.
It was, for all the touch of corn, a fitting tribute to a surprising U.S. Olympic team. In all sports, the Americans won 107 medals, 45 of them gold. The sailors won two gold medals, Bill Steinkraus won a gold in Grand Prix horse jumping and Gary Anderson, the rifle shot, won a gold. And in sports where Americans have never been strong—like gymnastics and cycling—while they did not score this time they gave plenty of evidence that in the next Olympiad they might just do that. The Mexican Olympics, like most of the ones before them, had their problems, but a lot of people found a lot of wonderful ways of overcoming them.