A battle plan was devised. Nappi and Johnson schooled their fighters in moving forward with power jabs followed by combinations of punches. Force a retreat, they ordered. And keep the hands higher than usual to protect the temples. When U.S. boxers found it necessary to retreat, it was to be a lateral movement—a step to the right or to the left, never straight back. The next step was to counteract Iron Curtain maturity by superb conditioning.
"Our kids had the know-how," Nappi said. "What they needed was the time and the place to work. They had to get into top physical shape."
On June 13 the U.S. fighters went to training quarters at the University of Vermont. They started slowly, first working only one minute at a time on the heavy bag. At the end they were going full bore for three minutes. Then there were Nappi's push-pull engagements. Two fighters, each with an arm around his partner's head, would push and pull one another about the floor; first for three minutes, ultimately for nine. Meanwhile, normal training went on.
"They got in pretty good shape," Nappi said, grinning. "Another good exercise was two of them punching each other to the body—up to six minutes. Our kids gave us everything they had. We couldn't ask for more."
They came to Montreal with bodies hard, skills honed, confidence high. They knew that they had been put down as a second-rate entry behind the Eastern Europeans and the Cubans. And they were enjoying their little private joke.
"They are all computerized fighters," said Leonard, who quickly became the personality star of the team. "Especially the Russians. You don't have to wind them up because they come with lifetime batteries. You just push a button and away they go. All we have to do is keep them off balance."
Leonard, who hails from Palmer Park, Md., has been fighting since 1971, working his way up through the Golden Gloves and the AAU to national championships. At Mexico City he was a Pan-American Games gold medalist. For him the Olympics was the last pit stop. Two years ago he promised his mother and his girl friend, Juanita Wilkinson, to whom he writes all his poetry, that after the Olympics he would never fight again.
He is a slender youngster, and handsome, with a deep interest in working with children. This fall he will enter the University of Maryland, to which he was given a two-year scholarship by the people of Glenarden, Md. Over his bed in the Village he had hung a huge Maryland state flag.
Before the final he sat on his cot and stared at his fragile hands, which pain him. The knuckles of his right hand are always swollen. An injury to the outside edge of his left hand prevents him from making a solid fist.
He flexed the slender fingers of both hands. "One more fight," he said in a low voice, "then it is over. I've been fighting here with one hand. Now I'll let go with everything." He looked up and smiled. "What do I have to lose?"