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ATLANTA 1996 OLYMPICS

U.S. Is Left Fighting Mad

Boxing: After Mayweather loses close decision, U.S. judge resigns, citing "incompetent judging."

August 03, 1996|TIM KAWAKAMI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ATLANTA — Floyd Mayweather's hand was raised. He celebrated, the Alexander Memorial Coliseum crowd roared, logic prevailed.

And then everything swerved into Olympic boxing bizarro land, a mysterious place full of futile protests, glitchy computers, dark hints of intrigue and blatant incompetence.

We have been here before. Previous visitors to this now-familiar destination include Roy Jones Jr. in the 1988 Seoul Games and Eric Griffin in the 1992 Barcelona Games.

There will be more names added to that list at the next Olympics, and the next and the next, because this is Olympic boxing and the Score Wars will always have a sequel.

But Friday night, after the referee's "mistake" was corrected and Mayweather's opponent was given the victory, there was only Mayweather's dejected resignation, an American judge's outrage, the U.S. coaching staff's righteous fury, and almost no chance of anything being done to rectify the wrong.

"It's just the story of our life," U.S. assistant coach Jesse Ravelo said. "This is just a soap opera, that's all it is, and we are the bad guys.

"Even the [scoring] jury was ashamed of the decision, and that tells you what kind of decision it was. They had their heads down, saying, 'Oh, my God.' "

Later, gold-medal favorite Antonio Tarver wearied and lost a decision to Vasilii Jirov of Kazakhstan, which left unheralded light-middleweight David Reid, who dominated Karim Tulaganov of Uzbekistan, as the only U.S. fighter in a gold-medal fight.

By most usual measures of boxing, featherweight Mayweather won the fight. By any discernible, fair reading of the events in the ring, he was stronger and harder to hit and faster.

Even referee Hamadi Hafez Shouman of Egypt, who did not have access to the score, seemed to assume Mayweather had won, even though Bulgarian Serafim Todorov was announced as the winner.

"The ref thought I won," Mayweather said. "Did you see how he raised my hand?"

The Amateur International Boxing Assn.'s scoring system, however, said he lost, by a 10-9 count, to reigning world champion Todorov, whose country, Bulgaria, the U.S. coaches were not shy to point out, is where the chief of the AIBA judges, Emil Jetchev, lives.

Throughout the bout, Todorov registered points for slaps to the side of Mayweather's head--Todorov was warned five times--whereas Mayweather was not rewarded for several hard hooks to the Bulgarian's head.

Mayweather built a 6-3 lead in the second round, but, with some strange points going up on the screen, Todorov tied it in the third, 7-7, then scored twice in the final minute--once, it appeared, without taking a swing--to get the win.

Immediately after the fight, U.S. judge Bill Waeckerle--who was in the Olympic judging and refereeing rotation, but, by rule, did not judge any U.S. fights--fired off a fierce letter of resignation to AIBA President Anwar Chowdhry, decrying the Mayweather decision as "an example of incompetent judging" and then implying in a late news conference that some judges are influenced by politics and the desire to stay in the top officials' good graces when they score.

The U.S. took it a step farther, lodging an official protest that claimed that officials are intimidated into favoring Bulgarians.

"They've got to get rid of the whole system, throw it in the trash," U.S. Coach Al Mitchell said. "It's the same people running things. . . . They might start honest, but if it's the same people running it long enough, they're going to get corrupt. They just end up being crooked."

Mayweather, 19 and from Grand Rapids, Mich., quietly said he was hurt by the decision, but showed no bitterness because he said those who saw the fight won't question who won it.

"I know, the crowd knows, the USA knows, the whole world knows I am the best fighter," said Mayweather, who said he was proud of the bronze medal he won. "I consider myself the gold-medal winner, and they ain't going to take that away from me."

The U.S. coaching staff, though, had previously risked its own credibility by raising doubts and protests over almost every American bout in these games, from tight losses--such as Fernando Vargas' to Marian Simion of Romania and Terrance Cauthen's to Bulgarian Tontcho Tontchev--to tight victories and even to convincing triumphs.

"I was asked if all we're doing is making excuses," Ravelo said. "But you saw tonight, this is not excuses. There's no excuse for what they're doing to us. All we want is what's right, and that's not happening. This is ridiculous. How long do we have to take it?"

* ALL ALONE: Light-middleweight David Reid is the only U.S. boxer to reach a gold-medal bout. S9

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