With the Olympics looming, that will not be easy. In the past year there have been many changes for De La Hoya, the sorts of changes that can throw off a hot young prospect. Last spring, in an awkward and painful parting, he broke with his trainer of nearly two years, Al Stankie. Stankie, a 20-year veteran of the Los Angeles Police Department and a gifted if eccentric coach, had previously guided another East L.A. boxer, Paul Gonzales, to the '84 Olympic light flyweight gold medal. Stankie and De La Hoya were close, but Stankie's admitted abuse of alcohol began to get in the way.
"When he's got his act together, he's the greatest trainer in the world," Gonzales has said. "But he's got that other side to him, and you don't even want to be around him then."
Last year Stankie showed up drunk at the national championships in Colorado Springs and was slapped with a three-year suspension by USA Boxing. In April he was picked up after repeated drunken-driving charges and sent to the L.A. County Central Jail for 83 days. De La Hoya talked things over with his father, Joel, a 51-year-old former boxer and now a shipping and receiving clerk for an air-conditioner company, who is the most important influence on Oscar's career.
"It was very hard, but I had to let him go," says De La Hoya of Stankie. "I don't think I let him down. He let me down."
For now, when he is in L.A., De La Hoya trains under Robert Alcazar. A 33-year-old mechanic for Weber Aircraft by trade—and a friend of Joel's—Alcazar has trained only a few young boxers. While De La Hoya says he is happy and learning a lot, it is unclear how long the arrangement will last.
Even before the break with Stankie, the De La Hoyas had been consulting with Shelly Finkel, Evander Holyfield's manager, about Oscar's turning pro. Finkel had seen De La Hoya box on television and liked what he saw. "I told Stankie, 'Look, this kid is very good. I'd like to help make sure he goes to the Olympics and that when he's done and ready to turn pro I have a chance,' " says Finkel.
In September, at Finkel's invitation, De La Hoya traveled to Virginia Beach to train with Holyfield's ring mentor, George Benton, and to work with former IBF junior lightweight champion John Molina. "I told Oscar, 'You're a star. You should have a star trainer,' " says Finkel. "Someone with a proven record of developing champions."
Such are the adjustments that must be made in the life of an aspiring champion. Then there are the other, far more wrenching adjustments that must be made at some point by everyone. Last October, Oscar's mother, Cecilia, died of breast cancer. She was 38. Her dying request to her son was that he win the Olympic gold medal for her. "That is my motivation," says De La Hoya softly.
After every bout now he drops to one knee and blows a kiss skyward. "It's like telling her, 'Here's another one for you,' " he says. Often, De La Hoya does his morning roadwork around the cemetery where Cecilia is buried. One day, he says, he will bring her the gold medal.
De La Hoya started boxing at age six. "I was a little kid who used to fight a lot in the street—and get beat up," he says. "But I liked it." He laughs. "So my dad took me to the gym."