The teams stayed at the Havana Libre, once the luxurious Havana Hilton. Unfortunately, the hotel is no longer palatial: the hot-water taps emit a lukewarm stream at best (at worst, they emit nothing) and the air conditioning in some of the rooms fights a feeble and often losing battle against the heat and humidity of the Cuban summer.
But the food was edible, the water potable and the service—considering the fact that tipping is outlawed—remarkably prompt and sometimes cheerful. Since the hotel was crammed with athletes, judges, officials and journalists from 56 countries, this was a considerable feat.
The U.S. team did not bring any special food or water and seemed none the worse for it, though Stinson lost about seven pounds and might have made the light heavyweight division if he had stayed another week. By the time he faced Stevenson he weighed 184 pounds.
All the teams trained in the Prado, a beautiful old marble building that was the social center of Havana in the days of Spanish colonialism. It looks like a castle, with sweeping marble stairways climbing three stories around a patio.
The teams were ferried back and forth in new Italian mini-buses through lovely, tree-lined streets upon which rolled a peculiar m�lange of ancient, finned American cars and small, new European imports. As the U.S. team climbed the stairs at the Prado for their workouts, they were greeted with the inevitable photograph of Stevenson clobbering Bobick with everything but a machete.
This was not the best of U.S. teams, although it is doubtful if the best would have done much better against the well-trained Cubans and Russians. "Our problem is that a lot of our best fighters turned pro right after our nationals," explained Chico Segura, one of the U.S. coaches. Segura is small, sandy-haired and freckled with a faint, scrubby mustache and a penchant for adding "sir" to every sentence.
"We are not making excuses, sir," he said, "but Sugar Ray Leonard, a light welterweight, probably the best amateur boxer of any weight in the country (SI, June 24), injured his right hand. And Miguel Ayala, who had a good shot at gold in the 119-pound class, needed a rest. Leonard would probably have won a gold in the 139-pound division, sir."
As it was, the U.S. team did well to put three men into the finals. Only Cuba, with six, and Russia, with four, had more. Premier Fidel Castro, talking to Bob Surkein, one of the U.S. referees, pointed out the principal reason. "We cannot have professionalism here in Cuba and we never will have," Castro said. "I think that is the trouble with U.S. teams. Your boxers turn professional too young, before they are fully trained."
Certainly, the U.S. boxers are much younger than their Iron Curtain counterparts, many of whom would be at the end of their pro careers in the States. "Age and maturity helps them, sir," Segura said. "But most of them fight in the same style: high left hand, right hand protecting the jaw. They move ahead in a straight line, trying to crowd you into the ropes. They throw the right straight, and if you let them move you back you are in trouble. You have to keep them in the center of the ring, move in fast, move out to one side or the other, not straight back. You watch our Howard Davis."
Davis carried out the U.S. strategy perfectly. In the semifinals on Wednesday afternoon he met Mariano Alvarez, a compact, hard-hitting fighter who exemplifies the Cuban-Russian style. Davis, taller and faster on his feet, moved in and out and circled, flicking the Cuban time and again with a good left jab, sometimes meeting his rushes with a short right hand to the head. He was being tagged himself with strong rights in close, but he did not often stay in close. By the third round he had Alvarez going out of his style a bit, sometimes lowering his high left to get leverage for hooks. Alvarez seemed to be the more punishing fighter and the outcome was in doubt. But Davis had an edge that came out in the scoring.