It is an irony that the finest amateur boxer of all time, whose dominance in the heavyweight division is part of Olympic lore, had to die just a month before the London Olympics, which is scheduled to start on July 27.
Widely known as the Ali of Cuba, Teofilo Stevenson breathed his last on June 11 leaving behind a tale of uncompromising principle and unparalleled achievements.
He dominated the sport for 15 years, winning the Olympic heavyweight gold at three successive Games in Munich (1972), Montreal (1976) and Moscow (1980).
Sticking to his belief
What makes Stevenson stand out was his staunch belief in the communist ideology espoused by his country and the refusal to countless offers to turn professional, during what is now viewed as a golden age in the heavyweight division.
Stevenson, though hailing from a poor background, made the most famous refusal to promoter Don King, who made multi-million-dollar offers to fight against world professional champions like Muhammad Ali and George Foreman. “What is a million dollars compared to the love of eight million Cubans?” Stevenson had asked.
Cuban boxing saw its Olympic breakthrough in 1968 in Mexico but Stevenson realised the first gold for the aspiring nation four years later in Munich.
He floored favourite Duane Bobick of the United States in the quarterfinals en route to the gold.
Reaching his physical peak at Montreal in 1976, Stevenson repeated his feat disposing of the first three round opponents in a combined time of just seven minutes 22 seconds. In the final, Romania’s Mircea Simeon survived only three rounds, back-pedalling around the ring most of the time.
Despite losing speed and agility Stevenson rode on his mental toughness in the Moscow Olympics. Though he was not as overwhelming as before, where he won mostly by knockouts, Stevenson settled for a 4-1 verdict over Russian Pyotr Zaev to take gold.
This victory enabled him equal Hungarian Lazlo Papp’s feat of three gold medals. It was not until 20 years later that Stevenson’s compatriot Felix Savon repeated the feat by winning his third Olympic crown at Sydney in 2000.
Stevenson’s dream of winning four Olympic golds remained unrealised as Cuba boycotted the subsequent Olympics in Los Angeles (1984) and Seoul (1988), after which he retired.