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Ray Leonard wanted to go home, and for the moment that was all on earth he knew. He had not felt so lost, despondent and confused since those dreadful days in Moscow four years before, when he was 17 and fighting overseas for the very first time. He was subsisting on ice cream because he could not abide the food and was feeling particularly shy and self-conscious because he sensed the Russians were staring at him because he was black. He had been in Europe for a month, and there were moments when he felt so lonely that he thought he was going crazy. One day he even asked his roommate to kneel down and pray for him. Leonard prayed, too.
Things weren't that bad now, but almost. It was the night of July 31, 1976, and Leonard had just won a gold medal in the Montreal Olympics. He hadn't been home to Maryland for almost two months. He'd been holed up for a month in Burlington, Vt., where the U.S. boxers had trained, and almost another month in the Olympic Village in Montreal. Fences rimmed the complex, athletes needed identification tags to get in and out, and there were armed soldiers guarding the gates and patrolling the grounds. A sensitive and introspective young man, Leonard had begun to feel like a prisoner. He had just fought six times in 13 days. His knuckles hurt him terribly. He was dehydrated from trying to make weight and exhausted from the pressure of fighting his way to the championship. Stepping down from the victory stand, he felt absolutely nothing. That was the crudest irony.
Leonard had just experienced the greatest moment of his life, one for which he had driven himself the past four years, through scores of matches in countless cities and distant gyms, over hundreds of miles of running in morning darkness before school, during hundreds of hours of sparring and skipping rope and working on the bags. He had decisioned Cuba's Andres Aldama, beating him easily, to win the gold in the 139-pound class. Now, in an instant, it was all over. "I was numb," Leonard says. "I think I was in shock. Everything was spinning around. I just wanted to go home."
With the medal hanging from his neck, dressed in his sweat suit and still wearing the trunks and shoes he'd fought in, Leonard wandered out of the boxing arena and into the night. Dave Jacobs, Leonard's trainer since his earliest amateur days in Palmer Park, Md., last saw Leonard at the medal-presentation ceremony. Jacobs and Leonard's parents, Cicero and Gertha, searched for him but could not find him. No one could. "Where's Ray?" Gertha kept asking. Jacobs ran into Leon and Michael Spinks, both gold-medal winners, but they hadn't seen Leonard. Neither had Cuban heavyweight Teofilo Stevenson, who was sitting in the dressing room.
Finally, Jacobs remembered something that Leonard had asked him before the fight. He and Ray's parents had traveled from Maryland to Montreal in a camper, and Leonard had said, "Where's the camper parked?" Remembering that, Jacobs said, "I think I know where Ray is."
And there he was, sitting in the camper, still wearing his boxing gear and gold medal. Leonard smiled. "Let's go," he said.
"O.K.," Jacobs said. "First we've got to go back to the Village to pick up your things." Leonard had left a small amount of money, some civilian clothes, pairs of trunks, shoes, robes and the flag of Prince Georges County, Md., in which his hometown of Palmer Park is located.
"Leave everything at the Village there," Leonard said. "Let's go. I want to go home. Now."
"Don't you want to pick up some of your belongings?" Jacobs asked.
"I got everything I need," said Leonard. "I got my shoes, my trunks, my jacket and my medal. I don't need anything there."