Powerhouse Cuba ready to spring a surprise in ring

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Hamburg: Cuba topped the medal chart in boxing at the 2004 Olympics with five gold, two silver and one bronze medal, confirming its long-held status as a powerhouse in world amateur boxing.

In Beijing, the Cubans will not have a complete team — they are competing in 10 of the 11 weight divisions — and for once do not consider themselves as favourites to top the medals’ tally. The Cubans pulled out of the 2007 world championships in Chicago fearing further defections after two boxers deserted during the Pan-American Games in Brazil, and thus go to Beijing as something of a surprise package.

“We are not going as favourites this time but the potential and motivation of these young men can achieve good places,” Cuba Boxing Federation (CBF) president Jose Barrientos said recently.

Similar situation

“The situation today is very similar to that of Barcelona (1992) when we arrived with no Olympic experience due to our absence in Los Angeles (1984) and Seoul (1988) and returned with seven gold medals,” he said in a recent Prensa Latina report.

With Cuba absent from the 2007 worlds, Russia — which won six medals in Athens — showed again it is a force to be reckoned with, winning eight medals including three gold and three silver. There were also positive results for China, which won five medals, while the United States and Italy bagged two gold each, the latter in the heavyweight and super-heavyweight divisions.

The United States has a fine Olympic history in the ring with an all-time best medals tally which includes 48 gold, but the team has struggled to make much of an impression at recent Games. Only three gold medals have come in the last four Olympics — Oscar De La Hoya in 1992, David Reid in 1996 and Andre Ward in 2004, and the U.S. team left the Olympics at Sydney in 2000 without a gold medal for the first time in more than 50 years.

The U.S. has to go back to Seoul 1988 for a really good showing when the squad won eight medals including three gold. At that Games, Roy Jones Jr., who went on to enjoy an illustrious professional career, was robbed of victory in the light-middleweight final when he controversially lost a 3-2 decision to his Korean opponent Park Si-Hun. A number of other questionable decisions led to the introduction of electronic scoring machines in Barcelona in 1992.

The United States won all the medals when boxing made its debut on the modern Olympic programme during the 1904 Games in Saint Louis — but only U.S. boxers competed at that Games. Appearing again in 1908, boxing vanished in 1912 at Stockholm because it was prohibited by Sweden’s national law, but returned in 1920 to stay.

Cuba has been consistently strong in the heavyweight division (91 kg), where Teofilo Stevenson won three gold in a row from 1972 to 1980, and Felix Savon completed the same feat from 1992 to 2000 before Odlanier Solis Fonte won gold in 2004. Stevenson, who might well have won a fourth gold but for the 1984 boycott, remains one of the best boxers in Olympic history, and one of three three-time winners along with compatriot Savon and Hungary’s Laszlo Papp. Olympic gold medallists like Muhammad Ali (as Cassius Clay in 1960, light heavyweight), Joe Frazier (1964, heavyweight), George Foreman (1968 heavyweight), Sugar Ray Leonard (1976, light welterweight), Floyd Patterson (1952, middleweight) or Oscar De La Hoya (1992, lightweight) are testimony to American boxing pedigree and the sport’s prominence at the Games.

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