Cuba punches in to win 11 of 12 gold medals

August 19, 1991|By Michelle Kaufman | Michelle Kaufman,Knight-Ridder

HAVANA -- Shannon Briggs caught a glimpse of amateur boxing heaven yesterday afternoon.

A giant ABC television lens peered into the ring as the U.S. heavyweight blew kisses.

Boxing aficionados -- about 10,000 of them -- rocked the Cuidad Deportiva arena. Even Fidel Castro, seated in the upper deck, did the wave.

Four-time world champion Felix Savon of Cuba stared at Briggs.

Lights. Camera. Ding!

Exactly two minutes, 45 seconds later, Briggs met Savon's right fist. When the fog cleared, Briggs realized why Cubans are the scariest amateur boxers in the world.

Cuba won 11 of 12 boxing Pan American Games gold medals yesterday, seven by knockout or referee stops.

Light welterweight (139 pounds) Steve Johnston, at 18 the youngest boxer on the U.S. team, was the only non-Cuban to win a bout. Johnston won a 17-5 decision over Edgar Ruiz of Mexico, despite a right middle finger stitched together last week after he cut it on a can of ham.

"There's no doubt the Cubans are strong as hell," said U.S. coach Kenneth Loehr. "Plus, we get a different group of kids every four years, and they have guys on the team for 12 years. It's hard to compare."

Savon's record is 225-9, and he hasn't lost since 1989. Briggs' record is 22-4, and he never boxed before 1989.

Patrice Brooks of the United States lost in the 132-pound division.

Air Force boxer Kenny Friday lost 15-3 to Cuban southpaw Arnaldo Mesa in the 125-pound class.

The four U.S. boxers who made it to yesterday's finals weren't expected to fare well, because the Pan Am team is made up of Olympic Festival runners-up. But U.S. coaches were disappointed with the lopsided results.

They were especially annoyed with Briggs, who mimicked Savon and flirted with TV cameras during introductions. He didn't throw a punch the first 1:15 of the fight.

Briggs admitted that if he had the chance, he'd fight differently. Asked whether he was embarrassed by his quick knockdown, Briggs began to cry.

"Very embarrassing, but I'm not a quitter, and I will be the U.S. heavyweight at the Olympics," he said.

The only U.S. boxer coaches praised yesterday was Johnston, a former high school running back. Johnston will likely represent the United States in the October world championships because Olympic Festival winner Terronn Millett was shot in the stomach last week by a thief who tried to take his car and gold chain in St. Louis.

"I was thinking about Terronn all day today and didn't want to let him down," Johnston said. Millett was the second Festival winner shot in the past month. Heavyweight champion John Bray accidentally shot himself in the mouth two weeks ago.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.