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Boxing 101: Olympic history

Boxing 101: Olympic history
Posted at 9:07 AM, Mar 11, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-16 15:51:46-04

St. Louis, 1904

The sweet science made its Olympic debut on the shores of the Mississippi, but there were not very many competitors, and no foreign athletes participated. As a result, Americans won all seven possible gold medals (and all other medals). Oliver Kirk, victorious in the bantamweight and featherweight divisions, is the only boxer in history to win two titles at a single Games.

London, 1908

Reginald "Snowy" Baker of Australia was the only non-British boxer to win a medal, taking silver in the middleweight category. After losing the final on points to John Douglas, Baker complained that the referee had not been completely impartial. And Baker had reason to be suspicious - the referee was Douglas' father. The multi-talented Baker also competed in springboard diving and the 4x200m freestyle at the 1908 Games.

Antwerp, 1920

Born in Cleveland, Ohio, welterweight Bert Schneider and his family moved to Montreal when he was 9. Schneider, who was unaware of boxing's place in the Olympic program, discovered he had been chosen for the Canadian team when he opened up the morning newspaper. He would go on to win gold.

Paris, 1924

The featherweight class featured a final bout with two Americans, Jackie Fields and Joe Salas. The two were best friends back in their native Los Angeles. Recalled Salas, "We had to dress in the same room. When they knocked on the door to call us to the fight, we looked up at each other and started to cry and hugged. Ten minutes later we were beating the hell out of each other." Fields won the bout, and the two remained lifelong friends.

Amsterdam, 1928

Disputed decisions in Amsterdam led to brawls among spectators outside the ring. One notable scuffle involved 16-year-old American Hyman Miller, who was declared a surprise first-round loser in the flyweight class. An outraged U.S. boxing team sought to withdraw all of its competitors, but Major-General Douglas MacArthur, then-President of the U.S. Olympic Committee, wouldn't allow it, insisting "Americans never quit."

Los Angeles, 1932

American Edward Flynn took one of two U.S. golds, his coming in the welterweight division. Following the Olympics, Flynn turned professional with the goal of raising capital to finance his way through dental school. Eventually setting up a practice in Tampa, Flynn remarked on his days as a boxer, "I got kind of sick of putting on gloves and hitting some fellow in the face when I've got nothing against him."

Berlin, 1936

South African lightweight Thomas Hamilton-Brown lost a first-round split decision, but got a second chance upon discovery that one of the judges had reversed his scores and that Brown actually was the winner. To take the edge off his initial disappointment, however, Brown went on an eating binge. Despite last minute attempts to sweat out the extra pounds, he was unable to make weight for his next fight and was disqualified.

London, 1948

Powerful southpaw Laszlo Papp made his Olympic debut and won the first of three successive Olympic titles. The Hungarian took home the middleweight crown in 1948 and earned light middleweight gold medals in 1952 and 1956, becoming the first man to win three Olympic boxing titles - the feat was later equaled by Cubans Teofilo Stevenson and Felix Savon. Papp, the first Soviet bloc fighter to compete professionally, once said, "I fight for money, but I am not greedy. How many steaks can one man eat?"

Helsinki, 1952

17-year-old Floyd Patterson, one of 11 children from Brooklyn, New York, cruised through four bouts en route to the finals. In the gold medal match, Patterson knocked his opponent Vasile Tita out in 74 seconds with an uppercut to the chin. Patterson would later go on to become the youngest heavyweight champion in the world (at 21) until Mike Tyson did it at the age of 20.

Melbourne, 1956

American Pete Rademacher, a solider from Yakima, Washington, fought Soviet Russia's Lev Mukhin in the finals. Mukhin won all three of his bouts by knockout or TKO, and was a favorite heading into the Gold Medal Match. Yet Rademacher proved victorious, knocking down Mukin 50 seconds in, then twice more in the next 80 seconds. Rademacher would later go on to fight Floyd Patterson in his professional debut. Though he knocked Patterson to the canvas in the second round, he would lose the bout in Round 6.

Rome, 1960

Winning light heavyweight gold at the 1960 Games, 18-year-old Cassius Clay took a first step toward becoming the most visible and quotable athlete in the world. In Rome, Clay gave an early glimpse of his prowess in the ring and his comfort in front of a microphone, offering this answer to a Soviet journalist who asked the Louisville-native about segregation in the American South: "Russian, we got qualified men working on that problem. We got the biggest and the prettiest cars. We got all the food we can eat. America is the greatest country in the world, and as far as places I can't eat goes, I got lots of places I can eat, more places I can than I can't." Four years later, Clay - known as Muhammad Ali - won his first world heavyweight title.

Tokyo, 1964

Joe Frazier wasn't supposed to make the trip to Tokyo for Asia's first Olympic Games, but after a broken knuckle caused American heavyweight Buster Mathis to withdraw, Frazier took full advantage. The Philadelphia native, who became known for his toughness, won a narrow decision over West Germany's Hans Huber in the final, despite fighting with a broken hand. Smokin' Joe Frazier was the only boxing finalist for the United States in 1964.

Mexico City, 1968

George Foreman, a greenhorn in boxing circles with only 18 matches under his belt, emerged from inner-city Houston to win the heavyweight gold medal. After the Games, Foreman embarked on a professional boxing career that included a first world title in 1973, a spot opposite Muhammad Ali in the "Rumble in the Jungle" in 1974, and an improbable championship in 1994 at age 45.

Munich, 1972

Welterweight Emilio Correa - the 19-year-old Pan American champion - defeated European titleholder Janos Kajdi, 5-0 in a close but unanimous decision. (Correa's son, Emilio Correa Jr., won silver at the Beijing Games 36 years later.) The Munich Games also marked the debut of Teofilo Stevenson, who is detailed in the Moscow, 1980 history section.

Montreal, 1976

"Sugar" Ray Leonard, a 20-year-old light welterweight from Maryland, pulled out a tough 5-0 decision against Cuba's Andres Aldama to win the gold medal. Leonard, fighting with photos of his girlfriend and their 2-year-old son pinned to his socks, was emotional afterward, announcing, "This is my last fight. My journey has ended. My dream is fulfilled." Leonard changed his mind a few months later, turning professional and going on to win the welterweight world title in 1979. Leonard was named "Fighter of the Decade" for the 1980s, when he held titles in the welterweight, middleweight, super middleweight and light heavyweight divisions.

Moscow, 1980

Cuba's Teofilo Stevenson became just the second boxer (after Hungary's Laszlo Papp) to win three Olympic gold medals. Stevenson, a heavyweight who dominated in Munich and Montreal, failed for the first time to knock out an opponent when Hungary's Istvan Levai eluded the powerful Cuban throughout their semifinal bout. Stevenson, who'd won all nine of his previous Olympic fights by knockout, also went the distance in the final, defeating Soviet Pyotr Zayev by a 4-1 decision.

Los Angeles, 1984

With the mighty Soviets and Cubans boycotting, U.S. boxers won 52 of 55 bouts - and nine gold medals - at the 1984 Games. One American who didn't triumph was light heavyweight Evander Holyfield, who was disqualified in his semifinal bout. The DQ, for hitting his opponent after being told to stop, was protested vigorously, but unsuccessfully. The loss relegated Holyfield to bronze, though few doubted that he belonged atop the podium. Gold medalist Anton Josipovic of Yugoslavia pulled Holyfield to the top of the podium during the medal ceremony.

Seoul, 1988

Bedlam broke out in Seoul when the host nation's bantamweight, Byun Jong-Il, lost a disputed preliminary bout. The boxer's coach and assistant, joined by a group of rabid fans, rushed into the ring and roughed up referee Keith Walker of New Zealand, who had penalized Byun two points for butting. When the chaos subsided, Byun staged a 67-minute sit-down protest, eclipsing the unofficial Olympic record set by countryman Choh Dong-Kih in 1964. (Choh had remained in the ring for 51 minutes after being disqualified from a bout in Tokyo.) In the aftermath of Byun's stunt, South Korean Olympic Committee President Kim Chong-Ha resigned, accepting full responsibility. Byun went on to fight professionally and in 1993 won the WBC bantamweight title.

Barcelona, 1992

Oscar de la Hoya won America's lone boxing title in Barcelona, launching a brilliant career further studded by multiple world titles. De la Hoya, a Mexican-American from Los Angeles, dedicated his Olympic gold to his mother, who had died of cancer two years earlier. De La Hoya was raised on the sweet science - his grandfather, Vicente, was an amateur featherweight in Durango, Mexico, and his father, Joel, was a professional lightweight in Durango during the 1960s.

Atlanta, 1996

With David Reid, America's lone boxing finalist in Atlanta, trailing 15-5 in the third round, it looked all but official that the U.S. would fail to win a boxing gold medal for the first Olympics since 1948. But 36 seconds into the third round, Reid avoided a right hook from Cuban Alfredo Duvergel and landed one of his own to send Duvergel to the canvas for a knockout. The instant victory prompted a congratulatory hug from a famous observer - Muhammad Ali - who whispered in Reid's ear, "You're a baaaad boy." Reid also shared an emotional embrace with U.S. coach Al Mitchell, the fighter's personal coach from the beginning of his career.

Sydney, 2000

Cuban Felix Savon, 33, claimed his third consecutive heavyweight crown to join former sparring partner and countryman Teofilo Stevenson as the only boxers to win three Olympic golds in one weight class. (Hungary's Laszlo Papp also won three titles, but in two weight classes). Having dominated the heavyweight division for nearly 15 years, Savon pummeled American Michael Bennett, 18-3, in a much-anticipated second-round bout. He later overcame a cut under his left eye in the final to cement his Olympic immortality.

Athens, 2004

After being shutout of the gold-medal hunt in Sydney, there were no major expectations of U.S. boxing entering these Games. But light heavyweight Andre Ward provided a golden moment. The 20-year-old from Oakland, who vowed beforehand "No silver, no bronze," stunned 6-foot-6 Russian world champion Yevgeny Makarenko in the quarterfinals. Ward, who like Makarenko had not lost a bout in five years, confused his burly opponent by switching from southpaw to a right-handed stance. Ward won a 17-15 decision over Utkirbek Haydarov of Uzbekistan in the semifinals, and came from behind after two rounds to decision Magomed Aripgadijiev of Belarus, 20-13, in the final.

Beijing, 2008

In keeping with tradition, boxing at the Beijing Games was riddled with controversy. Flyweight Rau'shee Warren, competing in his second Games, entered as a favorite to take the division. In his first bout, Warren, thinking he was well ahead in points, spent a majority of the final round avoiding contact. The judges disagreed, and the match went to Korean Lee Ok-Sung. Chinese Light Heavyweight Zhang Xiaoping took home gold after a 11-7 win in the final match over Ireland's Kenneth Egan. Multiple points in Egan's favor failed to be recorded, resulting in the controversial ending.

London, 2012

In a milestone year for Olympic boxing, women's competitions were added to the program for the first time ever, allowing new stars to be born. Among them was 17-year-old American Claressa Shields, who won the women's middleweight division and became the youngest Olympic boxing champion since 1924. Ireland's Katie Taylor earned gold in women's lightweight and was one of the most popular fighters of the tournament, with a boisterous crowd cheering her on during every match. Great Britain's Nicola Adams won the other women's division, flyweight, and was one of three British fighters overall to earn boxing gold on home soil. Great Britain's three gold medals led all countries.

Rio, 2016

For the first time since the 1980 Olympics, the men did not use headgear. The women, however, were still required to wear headgear. After winning the gold in London, USA's Claressa Shields once again won the women's middleweight division while Great Britain's Nicola Adams and France's Estelle Mossely won the flyweight and lightweight divisions, respectively. In the men's lightweight division, Brazil's Robson Conceição captured the gold on his home turf, beating France's Sofiane Oumiha to become the first Brazilian to take home an Olympic gold medal.