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Evander Holyfield

Olympic Heartbreak

When Evander arrived at the Olympic Games in Los Angeles in the summer of 1984, he was such a complete unknown in contrast to his illustrious teammates like Pernell Whittaker, Mark Breland, Meldrick Taylor and Tyrell Biggs, that people mispronounced his name as “Holly-field.”

After he knocked out his first opponent, people started to pay some attention. When he knocked out his second opponent, they started asking questions about him. When he knocked out the third one, Howard Cosell held him up for the world to see and his life changed forever. During the telecast of Evander’s quarter-final bout against Sylvanu Okello of Kenya, Cosell said, “Only thing that troubled me about what Holyfield said in the pre-fight interview was that he was looking to put him out early. I’ve stated repeatedly in this competition, in an Olympic boxing tournament you go in to box. You don’t look to load up and knock the opponent out.”

Twenty-two seconds later Evander loaded up and knocked the opponent out. Sportswriters said that he was now the surest lock for a gold medal in the entire Games. Not only that, Bob Lee, one of the ABC announcers, told the television audience that Evander had to be a leading contender for the Val Barker Cup, which is awarded to the outstanding boxer of the Games.

It was not to be. In the semi-finals, Evander fought Kevin Barry of New Zealand. Barry was overwhelmed in the first round, and even though he managed to survive, it was only a matter of time before Evander would knock him out. It happened in the second round. Barry received another in a string of cautions for holding, and after the ref pulled the two fighters apart and got them going again, Barry launched an uppercut, Evander responded with a combination and the New Zealander crumpled to the mat. The ref counted Barry out and the near-hysterical crowd thought it was all over with another knockout for the dazzling American.

But it wasn’t. After assuring himself that Barry was alright, the ref called Evander over and informed him that he was disqualified for a late hit.

The crowd thought it such a blatantly bad call that a near-riot ensued. A formal protest was filed and a hearing was held later that week. While Olympic officials refused to overturn the ref’s decision, they did overturn Olympic rules by allowing Evander to retain the bronze medal he’d earned by reaching the semi-finals. It was an unprecedented acknowledgment that a travesty had occurred.

Three months later, Evander turned pro.

© 2011 by Steeplechase Run, Inc. All Rights Reserved — Posted by permission of the author