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ATLANTA 1996 OLYMPICS

U.S. Moves On but Can't Help Looking Back

Boxing: Clay-Bey loses, Reid and Mayweather advance, but in light of recent tragedy all three put situations in perspective.

July 28, 1996|TIM KAWAKAMI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ATLANTA — On a day that mixed apprehension, rousing victory and wearying defeat, the U.S. boxing team glanced at its own mortality and moved on, fully understanding once and for all that anything--any terrifying, triumphant or trivial thing--can happen in these Games.

On Saturday, before a sellout crowd and between bomb scares at Alexander Memorial Coliseum, super-heavyweight Lawrence Clay-Bey, the biggest and oldest U.S. fighter and team captain, lost a surprising--and, by the U.S. coaching staff, protested--10-8 decision, but was a giant island of calm and dignity in the storm.

Light-middleweight David Reid, one of the most inconsistent Americans, stumbled through a listless first round, then stormed to a comfortable victory.

And, to cap the day, featherweight Floyd Mayweather, emerging as the team's best fighter, zoomed toward his quarterfinal confrontation with Cuban Lorenzo Aragon with a sizzling, 16-3 victory over Artur Gevorgyan of Armenia.

Then, the 20-year-old Mayweather stopped, and visited the recent, tragic past.

"What was I thinking when I heard about the bomb? 'Man, I was in [Centennial Olympic Park] not two days ago, walking around, taking pictures, signing autographs,' " Mayweather said. "Thank God I wasn't there last night.

"You never know what's going to happen to you. It could happen right here, where we're standing. A bomb could go off and there's nothing you can do about it. But I just hope nothing like this happens again."

Earlier, Clay-Bey, 30, lost to Vladimir Klitchko of Ukraine but, in a breakthrough for this youthful U.S. team, did not complain.

And as the U.S. coaches filed a protest complaining that the computer scoring was either a glitch or incompetence, Clay-Bey was voicing compassion for the dead and wounded in Saturday morning's bomb blast and expressing gratitude for the privilege of being an Olympian.

All he thought about when he heard about the explosion was reaching his wife, Valerie, and three children, Clay-Bey said.

"I have a security background," said Clay-Bey, who will return to his job as a corrections officer in a Connecticut jail for youths. "The first thing I did was call and put a restraining order on my family. 'Can't go here, can't do this. . . . ' Try to make sure they stay extra cautious out there.

"And the coaches stressed to us that the safest place to be is in the [athletes'] village."

Clay-Bey, a medal favorite, accepted the defeat, saying he had tired in the fight and had trouble finding the taller Ukrainian with his hard overhand right. After the night of worry, he said, he went into the ring feeling comfortable.

"I probably was a little too relaxed," Clay-Bey said. "The coaches were yelling at me to get going, but I kept figuring, 'I'll pull it out. I'll pull it out. I'll pull it out.' But it never happened."

U.S. assistant coach Jesse Ravelo, who watched the bout from the stands and could see the score as it was being tabulated on a TV screen, complained that several late Clay-Bey shots went uncounted and that one actually was mistakenly scored for Klitchko.

Clay-Bey, perhaps also speaking to his coaches, ended his news conference by staring at the reporters assembled in front of him and booming into the microphone, "Smile! It's not the end of the world. It's the Olympics."

Reid, meanwhile, moved one victory from the medal round by shaking off a 2-1 deficit after one round and stepping up the aggression. He outscored Polakaovic, 6-3, in the second round and never looked back.

For the U.S. team, Mayweather's showdown with Aragon is the best hope yet to end Cuba's dominance over American fighters. Immediately preceding Mayweather's victory, Aragon, who is not one of Cuba's stars, beat Rogelio de Brito of Brazil, 16-6.

All in all, it was a day for the U.S. team, and Olympic boxing, to just keep going in the wake of the bombing.

"These kinds of cowardly acts are meant to make you feel uncomfortable in your own city," U.S. Coach Al Mitchell said. "But we can't let them do that. We have to do everything we would've done before, just be more careful."

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