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Pat Putnam
August 23, 1971
A 205-pound prizefighter and a 304-pound weight lifter won gold medals for the U.S. as the Pan-American Games drew to a close
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August 23, 1971

Good Things Come In Large Packages

A 205-pound prizefighter and a 304-pound weight lifter won gold medals for the U.S. as the Pan-American Games drew to a close

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After the fight, the gallant Rocha said, "Bobick is very strong with a powerful punch. Soon he may be as good as George Foreman."

"That was nice of him," said Bobick. "I think I'd give Foreman a heck of a fight for three rounds."

Bobick's victory over Stevenson was a momentary blow to the Cubans, who came in with their most powerful team in Pan-Am history. In the five past games the Cubans had won a total of 24 gold medals and 118 overall. In the same period of time, the U.S. had won 482 golds and 942 medals in all. But while we were growing a bit blas� about it all, Fidel Castro was not. He transformed his island into one gigantic gymnasium, shipped his coaches to Russia for schooling and imported Russian and Polish coaches to teach the finer points of such recondite arts as fencing, weight lifting and the triple jump.

"Take weight lifting alone," said Oscar State, an Englishman who is an authority in that sport. "Today Cuba has 12,000 registered lifters. The U.S. has only 4,000, which is ridiculous. At least two Cuban weight-lifting coaches spent a year in Moscow learning Russian techniques. The Cubans have done the same thing in almost every sport. The results are obvious."

Painfully obvious. While some of our better athletes were home competing in summer leagues or working on their tans, the Cubans were in Cali whipping us in every team sport save water polo, women's basketball and field hockey, in which they didn't enter a team. The Cubans went home with 30 gold medals and 105 in toto, which is a pretty good haul for an island of only 8� million people.

"Maybe someday the American public will wake up," said Ron Fraser, the manager of the U.S. baseball team, which lost to Cuba and the Dominican Republic and wound up with a silver medal. "Baseball and basketball aren't ours anymore, they're international. Some of those Cuban baseball players have been together for six or seven years. It's an experienced Double A or Triple A team. And we come down here with 19-year-old college freshmen and sophomores who have been playing together only nine weeks, and when we lose, people say, 'Hey, what happened?' What happened is that we left a lot of our outstanding athletes back in the U.S., either because they couldn't afford to come or because they didn't want to."

Four years ago the U.S. won 120 gold medals, 225 overall. This time the totals were 105 and 218. "What can you expect?" said John Crosby, the 5'5", 125-pound gymnast who won two golds, five silvers and a bronze medal. "Sports used to be good for building the image of a country. But now I'm afraid it might be tearing ours down. It's just leading to more resentment toward us because we win so much. Look at boxing. Any time a U.S. fighter got beat, the people up in the stands had a ball. Colombia is supposed to be a pro-U.S. country, but you sure hear a lot of 'Cu-ba, Cuba.' We got jobbed in all the subjective sports, the ones where you depend upon arbitrary judges. In gymnastics you have a guy wavering between an 8.5 and a 9, and he sees it's the U.S., and he gives the 8.5. One Cuban fell coming off the horizontal bar, and the judges gave him a 9.1 out of 10. It was really unbelievable."

In Crosby's case the judging spurred him to greater efforts. "My motivation changed after the first day," he said. "After being jerked around by the judges, I just wanted to go out and maul those Cubans. It wasn't just competition anymore. It got pretty nasty. We were cursing and screaming at the judges. I came down just to perform well. But when I saw what was happening, well, first I got depressed, then I got vengeful. It ripped my values away from me. One thing, though. We had a tendency to blame the Cubans for what happened. But then we realized it was the judges, not them. After the first day we invited the Cubans to come over to our table to eat with us. They sort of shuffled over. They knew what was happening and were embarrassed. That helped smooth things over."

Ken Patera, the 304-pound super-heavyweight weight lifter from Minneapolis, had no such problems. "All I have to do," he said, "is have them slap a lot of pounds on each end of that bar and then I put it over my head. If nobody else comes close, I win. Them Cubans can have all the Russian coaches there are, but they still have to lift the weights themselves."

With the U.S. leading Cuba by only five points in the unofficial weight lifting team standings, it came down to the superheavies, Patera and 268-pound Fernando Bernal of Cuba. In the press, Bernal fouled, fouled again and finally got 374 pounds over his head. "He's knee kicking," said Oscar State. "That's one of the Russian tricks. They have a lot of them."

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