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U.S. Team Hopeful of Matching Its Three Gold Medals at Seoul; Cuba Seeking to Reassert Itself

September 10, 2000|MIKE PENNER

* OVERVIEW--After winning but one gold medal in each of the last two Summer Games--Oscar De La Hoya in 1992, David Reid in 1996--the United States has designs on matching its 1988 Olympic haul, when Kennedy McKinney, Andrew Maynard and Ray Mercer all won titles (and Roy Jones deserved one, but that's another, very long story).

The United States is coming off its best showing at the world championships, winning an unprecedented four individual world titles at last year's competition and tying Cuba for the team title, 37 points apiece. Three of those world champions will represent the United States in Sydney--light-flyweight Brian Viloria, featherweight Ricardo Juarez and heavyweight Michael Bennett. The fourth, light-heavyweight Michael Simms Jr., was kicked off the team in the spring by Coach Tom Mustin, who called Simms "a bad influence" on his teammates. According to Mustin, Simms was frequently late for workouts, missed curfew on the eve of the U.S. Olympic trials and refused to participate in training runs, claiming his knee was hurt.

Cuba will be looking to reassert its Olympic dominance of the sport; Coach Alcides Sagarra, in a shameless attempt to stoke the competitive fervor in his camp, announced that Cuba will sweep all 12 gold medals in Sydney. Mustin rightly dismissed such talk as "propaganda," and a quick scan of the 1999 world championship results showed only two Cuban winners: lightweight Mario Kindelan and welterweight Juan Hernandez.

Cuban heavyweight Felix Savon will be bidding for his third Olympic gold medal, which would tie him with legend Teofilo Stevenson. Savon was a no-show in the heavyweight title bout at the world championships, refusing to enter the ring in protest over a result that went against a teammate in an earlier final. With no opponent, Bennett won the title in a walkover.

* OTHERS TO WATCH--American light-welterweight Ricardo Williams Jr. won the gold medal at the 1998 Goodwill Games and is a former Junior Olympics champion. Cuba's Maikro Romero won gold medals at the 1996 Olympics, 1997 world championships, 1998 Goodwill Games and 1999 Pan Am Games, but lost to Viloria in the light-flyweight final at last year's world championships, 9-2. Middleweight Eromosele Albert is Nigeria's best medal hope--hence his nickname, "The Hope"--and already is planning to cash in immediately after the Games by turning pro.

* BEST STORY--Bennett spent the 1996 Olympics in a jail cell at the maximum-security federal prison in Menard, Ill., serving out a seven-year sentence for an armed-robbery conviction. At 19, Bennett and a friend robbed a Chicago toy store, eventually earning him a 26-year sentence that was reduced to 15 on appeal and then to seven for good behavior. He was released in July 1998.

Bennett discovered boxing in prison as a way to stay in shape, and barely a year after his release he won the heavyweight amateur championship--albeit in a walkover over Savon. That victory, however, did not assure Bennett a spot on the U.S. Olympic team. Bennett still had to wage a six-month legal fight with Australian immigration officials, who were not keen on the idea of permitting a convicted criminal into the country. Finally, in May, Bennett received clearance.

* SOUTHLAND ATHLETES ON U.S. TEAM--Flyweight Jose Navarro, 19, Los Angeles.

* KEY DATES--Sept. 29, finals in the light-flyweight, bantamweight, lightweight, welterweight, middleweight and heavyweight divisions. Sept. 30, finals in the flyweight, featherweight, light-welterweight, light-middleweight, light-heavyweight and super-heavyweight divisions.


Fast Fact

Light-flyweight Brian Viloria is the first Hawaiian-born boxer to represent the United States at the Olympics since 1956, when two Hawaiians competed in Melbourne.

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