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Gold Tradition Ends Controversially for U.S. Boxers


SYDNEY, Australia — Once again, amateur boxing has left its stench on the Olympic movement.

After U.S. boxer Ricardo "Rocky" Juarez lost a 22-14 decision to Bekzat Sattarkhanov of Kazakhstan today, and the U.S. delegation filed an official protest, match referee Stanislav Kirsanov was suspended for four years from international boxing.

But Juarez's loss in the featherweight gold-medal bout stood, leaving the U.S. boxing group, led by USA Boxing President Gary Toney, infuriated. They felt that the suspension of the referee was a clear admission of wrongdoing, and if that was the case, Juarez should get the gold. Officials of the Amateur International Boxing Assn. were not available for comment after the decision.

Juarez's loss, plus the later 27-20 loss by light-welterweight Ricardo Williams of Cincinnati in a bout that was also controversial, marked the first time since the London Olympics in 1948 that the U.S. failed to win at least one gold medal in boxing.

This was certainly not the first time in an Olympic boxing event that the matches were controversial, pointing to longtime arguments among boxing experts that the Olympic tournament is such a judge-driven event, with great potential for outside influences on those judges, that the sport is now a farce.

There was an actual precedent for the Juarez decision, that being Roy Jones' notorious loss in Seoul in 1988, where the decision stood but the referee was suspended.

Juarez, who had won 68 consecutive matches going into today's Olympic final, is 5 feet 3 and was giving away four inches in height and at least as much in reach to Sattarkhanov. And that turned out to be a key issue, because, as hard as Juarez tried to get inside and score, especially when he got behind after the second round, 15-4, he was kept from doing so by the taller Sattarkhanov.

According to angry U.S. boxing officials, Juarez was kept away from any scoring chances by the holding tactics of his opponent, who was warned about it repeatedly by Kirsanov. But the Russian referee never altered the points being awarded, nor disqualified Sattarkhanov. Toney filed a protest on the match immediately afterward, and two hours later, the AIBA made its ruling on Kirsanov.

"I haven't said much about the officiating all week," Toney said, "but it has been terrible, and this was just the worst."

Toney said that he counted nine warnings for holding from the referee, and he said that, by international rules, after the first two warnings, or cautions, the third dictates the addition of two points for the offended boxer. Then, for the fourth, two more points, and for the fifth a disqualification.

Juarez said afterward that the Kazakhstan fighter said the same word to the Russian referee each time he was told to break and stop holding.

"There's a rule against speaking to the referee," Juarez said. "I knew the referee was on the other fighter's side. I know there are politics in all sports, but I can't imagine at this level, an Olympic tournament, that a referee wouldn't do his job."

Toney stopped just short of saying that he felt the fight was fixed, but used the word "incompetent" freely when referring to Kirsanov, who he said had the reputation of being one of the best international referees around. That, of course, furthered the implication that somebody had gotten to the Russian.

Williams' defeat was not as one-sided, but his loss to world champion Mahamakadyz Abdullaev of Uzbekistan was controversial in its own right.

The U.S. contingent, which considered protesting that result, backed off when it realized that would come across as whiny Americans and that a second protest would jeopardize the first, where there were more flagrant complaints and obvious grounds. Toney implied that the U.S. group felt the scoring judges had been biased in their punch-scoring, which they do from courtside keypads.

Williams had won his way into the final with a brawling, 42-41 victory over a Cuban on Friday night. But this time, when he tried to brawl, and when he appeared to land the same number and types of shots that he did against the Cuban, the points seemed to pile up more quickly for his opponent.

"He was a good opponent," Williams said, "and I'm proud of what I did here."

Interestingly, Norm Blake, CEO of the U.S. Olympic Committee, issued a statement in which he strongly objected to the Williams' decision, the less controversial of the two involving U.S. boxers.

"I might get myself in trouble," Blake said, "but that's the way it is. In my opinion, there was undue favoritism toward the Uzbekistan boxer. I call for a full investigation of the international federation and those who control it."

Right or wrong, Blake has the basis for wrinkling his nose at the ever-present smell around amateur boxing.

Prior to these Oympics, a few Olympic officials were banned from entering the country. One was Gafur Rakhimov of Uzbekistan, who was labeled a member of the Russian mafia by the Australians.

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