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As the gold flowed from the Olympic ring into the U.S. dressing room Saturday night in the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena, amateur boxing seemed about as competitive as shooting craps with a blind man. Sorry, baby, snake-eyes, you lose. What do you want to roll for next? Your Seeing Eye dog?
And it doesn't hurt any if you're playing on your home turf. Like, say, in the 1983 Pan Am Games in Caracas, where the Venezuelans got more decisions than they deserved. Or at the World Cup in Rome last October, when the Italians celebrated Christmas two months early—gifts and all. Or in Los Angeles, where the American kids mined the mother lode for nine gold medals, a silver and a bronze.
O.K., before you start humming Francis Scott Key's heart-thumper, which ain't a bad thing to do, forget for a moment the record number of gold medals and give a thought to Evander Holyfield, who might have been the best of the 359 boxers who entered the tournament 345 bouts and a couple of weeks ago. When they gloved up the 22 survivors for the finals, Holyfield was at a concession stand ordering a hot dog and a Coke. That's not exactly the place you'd expect to find a light heavyweight who blasted through his four opponents the way the First Marine Division took Inchon. The last guy Holyfield fought, on Thursday night—a tattooed New Zealander named Kevin Barry—is still wondering who bopped him with a baseball bat. That was just a few seconds before Holyfield was mugged by a Yugoslav referee named Gligorije Novicic.
At this point you may want to hum a few bars from O Slavs, Our Ancestors' Words Still Live, the Yugoslav national anthem. Novicic's slick work—in contrast to the less sophisticated but equally effective daily miscarriages delivered by the inept judges—deserves background music. The Novicic-to-Evers-to-Chance ploy was set up by the light heavyweight semifinal bout preceding Holyfield vs. Barry—that one was won by Anton Josipovic, also a Yugoslav.
Enter Holyfield, the gold medal favorite, who thought the only guy in the ring he had to beat was Barry. After being soundly whipped in the first round, Barry narrowed his attack to holding Holyfield with one hand while rapping him on the back of the neck with the other. Novicic should have thrown Barry out of the ring. Instead, he issued a series of warnings and cautions, six in all, enough to disqualify most amateur boxers.
"Novicic blew it," said John Holaus, one of four American officials who worked the competition. "He was going from cautions to warnings and then back to cautions. It's against the rules. Once you issue a warning [which deducts a point at the judges' discretion] you can't go back to cautions. I couldn't believe what I was seeing."
Holyfield took matters into his own hands. Near the end of the second round, with Barry grabbing him around the neck with his right arm, Holyfield pulled back and—just as Novicic yelled "Stop!" from long distance—slammed a right to the body and a savage left hook to the head. Barry dropped as though shot.
After sending Holyfield to a neutral corner, Novicic counted out Barry, who had regained his feet at six. Exit one semifinalist—because he was stopped by a head blow, Barry was medically ineligible to fight for 28 days. Then Novicic made it a sweep by disqualifying Holyfield for hitting on the break. As it turned out, Barry became the only boxer in Olympic history to fall a bronze medalist and arise to win the silver. With no one left to fight, Josipovic had a free ride to the gold medal.
Pat Nappi, the U.S. head coach, considered storming the ring, but quickly left the arena floor instead. "I had to get out of there," said the normally composed Nappi, who has been coaching amateur boxers for 30 years. "I was afraid if I didn't, I'd hit the guy."
The U.S. filed an immediate protest. To do that you have to lay out $50, which may tell you the value the International Amateur Boxing Association (AIBA) places on such actions. No protest in history has ever been upheld. This one wasn't, either. But the AIBA people, who didn't even bother to quiz Novicic, aren't without heart. Said Anwar Chowdhry of Pakistan, who headed the protest committee, "The committee recommends that the U.S. boxer, although being disqualified, should be awarded the [bronze] medal due him."