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Hobbled Vargas Gets Eliminated

A knee injury and sprained ankle doom him against fighter from Belarus.

August 23, 2004|Steve Springer | Times Staff Writer

ATHENS — Heavyweight Devin Vargas didn't lose his chance for an Olympic medal in the ring at the Peristeri Olympic Boxing Hall Sunday night. He lost it a week ago at the U.S. embassy.

At least that's the way Vargas sees it.

His left knee buckling, his right ankle swelling and his mobility rapidly disappearing, Vargas was beaten by Viktar Zuyev of Belarus in a quarterfinal match, 36-27.

Tears in his eyes afterward, Vargas had to stop to compose himself as he tried to relate the chain of events that ended his involvement in the Olympic tournament one match shy of the medal round.

"There's only so much you can do on one knee," he said.

Vargas' problems began when he awoke in Athens shortly after his arrival with pain in his left knee. "There was a burning and swelling," he said.

Vargas nursed the injury along until a week ago when he joined other U.S. athletes at a barbecue at the U.S. embassy.

"I stepped in a pothole and hyperextended the knee," he said.

Still, with a brace covering the injured area, Vargas was able to win his first-round match impressively, his fight against Rachid El Haddak of Morocco stopped with 38 seconds remaining in the third round under the mercy rule because Vargas had a 20-point lead.

But in the opening round of his bout Sunday, Vargas, turning sharply, not only re-injured his knee, but turned his right ankle.

"That was a big factor," he said. "I wanted to bounce on my legs and box. When I couldn't do that, the coaches wanted me to come forward. But I hadn't done that since last year."

The fight was close through the first two rounds, Vargas trailing, 8-6, after one and 17-15 after two. But Zuyev moved ahead, 29-21, in the third round and coasted to the victory.

Three U.S. boxers -- super-heavyweight Jason Estrada, 165-pounder Andre Dirrell and 178-pounder Andre Ward -- remain in contention for a medal. Estrada fights tonight against Michel Lopez of Cuba, beaten by Estrada a year ago in the finals of the Pan Am Games.

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