Mollified, Nappi said later, "We're winning, the team is doing terrific, and things like this keep happening. I shouldn't let it get me down. I've been slapped in the face so many times I should be used to it."
By Aug. 5 the U.S. team had run its record to 16-0; then Robert Shannon, the bantamweight, ran into the angry fists of Moon Sung Kil of South Korea. It was Shannon's second bout. A pure puncher, Shannon shocked everyone, including himself, when he turned boxer and built a commanding lead through the first two rounds. But Shannon, reverting to slugging form in the last round, was outgunned by Moon and stopped with a little less than two minutes to go in the fight.
"I had to look at the tapes to find out what happened," Shannon said. "He caught me with an overhand right at the end of the second round, and I don't remember a thing after that. I'm hazy about what was said in the corner and I remember nothing of the third round. After I got hurt I went back to being a slugger, and that was my big mistake. But I went out like a man; I went down swinging."
Misfortune didn't strike again until Novicic thumbed Holyfield out of the Olympics and—as sort of a silver (or bronze) lining—to greater national exposure than if he'd gone on to win the gold medal. "It looked to me like the referee was pulling for him," Holyfield said quietly. "He warned him about nine times for holding, and usually after a couple of those a boxer is disqualified. I don't know why the referee did what he did. I was throwing a combination. Barry even threw a punch. I never heard the referee say anything until after the guy went down. Even if I had heard him, there was no way I could stop a punch in midair. I knew the way we were going that somebody would get a raw deal down the line. I just never thought it would be me. But there's nothing I can do about it. I did my best."
And so, the U.S. put 10 of its boxers into the finals. Leading off was Paul Gonzales, the light flyweight who had only to walk into the ring Saturday afternoon to pick up his gold medal. His opponent, Salvatore Todisco of Italy, had broken his right thumb in a semifinal victory over Keith Mwila of Zambia, and couldn't fight.
Then, after Maurizio Stecca of Italy defeated Hector Lopez of Mexico 4-1 to win the bantamweight gold medal, came Whitaker, the American team showman. He'd run off four impressive 5-0 victories, and now he closed the show by forcing the corner of Luis Ortiz of Puerto Rico to toss in the towel with three seconds remaining in the second round.
Up stepped Breland, the 6'2½" welter with a 109-1 record, who is more Hearns than Sugar Ray Leonard, although most people seemed to prefer comparing him to Leonard, winner of the light welterweight gold medal at the '76 Games. Despite the early Olympic bickering, which bothered him deeply and led to poor showings in his first two fights, Breland did have his positive moments.
For one, he got to turn down a $15,000 offer from an athletic shoe company to wear its product in just one fight. (McCrory and super heavyweight Tyrell Biggs were offered $40,000 each to wear the shoes of another company, but the American Boxing Federation has an exclusive agreement with Adidas to have its boxers wear only that brand. That deal nets more than $300,000 a year for U.S. amateur boxing.)
Then there was the advice that Breland received during the past two weeks from three former world champions.
Muhammad Ali: "Throw a lot of punches to build up points in the first round, coast but score some points in the second round, and then come on strong in the first and last minute of the third round."