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U.S. OLYMPIC BOXING TRIALS PREVIEW : Heavy Weights Look Stronger Than in '84

July 05, 1988|EARL GUSTKEY | Times Staff Writer

CONCORD, Calif. — This week will be about hopes and dreams that come true, but also about nightmares and anguish.

Mostly nightmares and anguish.

And then there is this question: Is a future conqueror of Mike Tyson registered at the Concord Hilton this week? Stay tuned.

Ninety-six amateur boxers, the cream of America's crop of 1988, have arrived for the U.S. Olympic team trials tournament beginning today, the next-to-last step in qualifying for the U.S. team.

After Concord, there is one more stop on the road to Seoul. The champions of 12 weight classes who win here Saturday and Sunday and their "most noteworthy opponents" will meet again in Las Vegas on July 16-17, to form the 12-man Olympic team.

The trials tournament begins with two quarterfinal sessions, this afternoon and tonight, at Diablo Valley College in Pleasant Hill. The semifinals will be at the Concord Hilton Wednesday and Thursday, and the finals are Saturday and Sunday, outdoors at the Concord Pavilion.

Two-and-a-half months before the Seoul Olympic Games, the U.S. boxers are coming into clearer focus than are the administrators who run the USA Amateur Boxing Federation. Hard to believe, but this outfit still doesn't have a head coach for the Olympic team.

Ken Adams, the former Army coach, was given the job last October, but chucked it all away when he tried to assault an accountant at the USA/ABF headquarters at Colorado Springs, Colo., in May. Adams was given the heave-ho by the federation, but the episode remains tied up in appeals.

The Olympic team's head coach will be named July 15 in Las Vegas, the day after Adams' final appeal is heard.

As competition begins today, most amateur boxing observers expect to see weak to moderately good talent in the lighter weight classes, and slightly more impressive prospects in the heavier weights, with the exception of light-middleweight (156 pounds), probably the weakest class for the United States.

Boxers qualified for the Olympic trials by one of eight ways: Finishing first or second at the March national championships; finishing first or second at the armed forces championships; winning a national Golden Gloves championship; winning the Eastern or Western Olympic trials tournaments; or by becoming an at-large invitee from the USA/ABF.

Starting at the heavy end of the scale, there is considerably more talent available in the heavyweight (201 pounds) and super-heavyweight (201-plus) classes than was the case during the 1984 team selection process.

A year ago, Brooklyn super-heavyweight Riddick Bowe looked like a cinch '88 Olympian, particularly after an impressive showing against Cuban Jorge Gonzales at the 1987 Pan-Am Games.

But at the national championships at Colorado Springs last March, Bowe showed up a trifle less-than-brilliant and was stopped by Robert Salters, a 6-4, 240-pound Ft. Bragg soldier with surprisingly good quickness to complement power.

Since his upset over Bowe, Salters had a very competitive match with a world-class Soviet boxer, Viacheslav Yakovlev, at Lake Tahoe in May. Salters, 25, lost a 4-1 decision but was in the bout all the way.

In the heavyweight class--the division where an 18-year-old Tyson lost to Henry Tillman in 1984--Michael Bent of Cambria Heights, N.Y., is the clear favorite. If he makes weight, that is. Bent has had difficulty making 201 in recent engagements.

His toughest opposition should come from Jerry Goff of Saucier, Miss., (whom he meets in this afternoon's opening session), Ray Mercer of the Army and David Sewell of Columbia, S.C.

Looking at the rest of the weight classes:

Light-heavyweight (178)--Andrew Maynard, an Army cook at Ft. Carson, Colo., is probably the United States' best amateur boxer right now. Since 1986, he has won 9 of 10 competitions, including two national championships and an armed forces championship.

Middleweight (165)--Anthony Hembrick of the Army seems the top choice, followed by Jerome James, a policeman from Sioux Falls, S.D. Darin Allen, a 1986 world champion who seems to have regressed in the last two years, is also in the tournament.

Light-middleweight (156)--This is the weakest U.S. class, nearly everyone agrees, but a wide-open one. Most are picking Frank Liles of Syracuse over Tim Littles of Flint, Mich. Ray McElroy of Long Beach, the Golden Gloves champion, is thought to have a chance, as does Thomas Tate of Houston, younger brother of 1984 Olympic champion Frank Tate.

Welterweight (147)--Kenneth Gould of Rockford, Ill., one of three 1986 world champions in the tournament, is the consensus favorite. However, there are signs of slippage in Gould's game. He has lost a half-dozen times since his world championship year.

If Gould falters, one of two Army boxers, Alton Rice or Greg Lonon, should wind up winning it.

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