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ATLANTA 1996 OLYMPICS

This Georgian Won't Be Crowd Favorite

Boxing: Oxnard's Vargas will be expected to defeat Meschedze. Rahim also fights for U.S.

July 20, 1996|TIM KAWAKAMI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ATLANTA — For this afternoon's first-round boxing match at Georgia Tech's Alexander Memorial Coliseum, Oxnard's Fernando Vargas drew a Georgian.

Fortunately for the U.S. team's 147-pound representative, the Georgian in question is Tengiz Meschedze of the Republic of Georgia, whose only previous major competition was a quarterfinal loss in the European championships.

"I was ready to go today," Vargas said Friday. "I just want to get things started."

If Vargas, one of the American team's favorites to win a medal, beats Meschedze, his second-round fight will be Thursday.

The other U.S. boxer fighting on the first day of competition is bantamweight Zahir Raheem, who faces Hoe Jong-Gi of North Korea.

In a draw that was delayed because of a broken computer, the American team fared fairly well--only two fighters are matched against Cubans before the third round.

U.S. flyweight Eric Morel faces Cuban Maikros Romero in a first-round bout Tuesday, and Rhoshii Wells, the middleweight who lives in the Atlanta area, had the misfortune of drawing Cuban star Ariel Hernandez, if both win their first-round matches Monday.

"The draw looks very good right now," said U.S. assistant coach Jesse Ravelo, attending the draw in place of Coach Al Mitchell, who skipped it for superstitious reasons.

"If we can beat the Cubans [in those two matches], and I'm pretty confident we will, that's a big plus for our team."

But, with the Cuban team suffering from two recent defections, and the potential for more, Ravelo said the U.S. team won't be staying up late worrying about the Cubans during these Games.

"I don't think anybody should be concentrating on the Cubans because the other countries are developing," Ravelo said. "I don't think the Cubans are as strong as they've been before."

Said Mitchell: "The most important thing at these Olympics is the draw. . . . You could be the best boxer in the tournament and you can draw the German, the Cuban, the Russian, and you don't have anything left in you for the fourth bout. Anybody that is a boxing fan and knows the game knows I am telling the truth."

American light-heavyweight Antonio Tarver, the U.S. team's only gold-medal favorite, opens his tournament Wednesday.

Boxing Notes

Ugandan heavyweight Charles Kizza, who faced exclusion from the Olympics after being charged with passing counterfeit currency and confined to the athletes' village, will stay on and fight. "He has weighed in and will be allowed to box," International Amateur Boxing Assn. President Anwar Chowdhry said. "I don't know how but he is in." Kizza was arrested Sunday after he tried to use five counterfeit $100 bills to buy women's underwear in a store in Gainesville, northeast of Atlanta.

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