De la Hoya fights for mother's dream A boxing gold medal was her dying wish

July 27, 1992|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,Staff Writer

BARCELONA, Spain -- His mother will be in his corner.

She will watch him throw jabs that stun the opponent. She will see him dance from danger. And when the fight ends, the son will look to the roof of the arena and throw a kiss to the sky.

Oscar de la Hoya says this without a trace of guile. There may be thousands of fans stuffed into a cramped boxing arena, and millions more watching on television, but de la Hoya is worried only about pleasing one woman, his mother, Cecilia, buried nearly two years.

"My goal is to get that gold for her," he said. "I'll never get tired of saying that. It's something that I believe. It's something that I have to do."

For the fast-rising amateurs of the United States, the Olympic boxing tournament is usually just a way station on a road to millions. But to de la Hoya, the Barcelona Games are different. They are about fulfilling a mother's death-bed wish, about drawing a family closer together in a journey from East Los Angeles to an Olympic gold medal.

He is 19, and on the verge of stardom.

His style is fluid.

His face unscarred.

His voice melodic.

He is an artist, willing to use his hands to sketch a bird or slice apart an opponent.

But in the ring, de la Hoya brings poetry and fury. He is a lightweight, a 132-pounder who stands 5 feet 8, who uses a long reach and a steady jab to wear down foes.

"I believe the sport is in my blood,"he said. "All my family boxed. We just loved it. I just knew how to fight. I was a natural."

His grandfather, Vicente, fought in Mexico and then brought the family north to the United States in 1956. Then Oscar's father, Joel, briefly boxed, compiling a 9-3-1 professional record. Now, the family business falls to the son.

"I started when I was 6 years old," de la Hoya said. "It was just on the street and I was crying. But I won."

Beginning in 1989, when he won his first National Golden Gloves title, de la Hoya has climbed steadily up the ladder in his weight class. When he won the gold medal at the 1990 Goodwill Games, it confirmed his status as one of the world's top amateurs.

But now, de la Hoya recalls only the sadness of those days after fighting in Seattle. His mother was dying of cancer. Radiation therapy had left her back burned, her body weakened. She told her son that she would not live to see him fight in Barcelona, but that she would be there with him in spirit, and that he would win the gold. As de la Hoya tells the story, he betrays little emotion.

"My family didn't want to tell me about my mom's illness before the Goodwill Games," he said. "They were afraid I would get affected by it. But when we finally talked, my mom told me she was confident of me winning the gold medal. I promised I'd get it for her."

For de la Hoya, the route from East Los Angeles to an Olympic gold was supposed to be smooth. His amateur record was unblemished for 36 straight fights. But at last year's world championships in Australia, he was beaten on a decision by Germany's Marco Rudolph. A new electronic scoring system befuddled de la Hoya, and the German beat him to the punch.

"Oscar was changing his style," said U.S. coach Joe Byrd. "He was trying to change it for the electronic scoring. I told him to forget about the scoring. Now, he's getting back to his old style. We're putting it back together. You'll see a different Oscar in Spain."

The loss to Rudolph fueled de la Hoya's desire to refashion his career. He says now that he was upset for 10 minutes after the fight, accepted the defeat, and went on.

"I knew I would have to train harder and fight better," he said. "It made me realize that if I'm not well-trained, then someone else out there could beat me."

De la Hoya also decided to go back to basics, landing combinations in flurries instead of stalking opponents and striking single blows to impress judges.

"People thought I was losing it after that defeat," he said. "There was a lot of pressure on me. People thought I wasn't the same. But I'm back to my old style. I'm using my power. Working the body. Knocking people out."

De la Hoya's determination is evident in training. He jogs farther than his teammates. Does more push-ups. Even shadowboxes a minute longer than all the others.

"People don't know what is keeping me up, what is driving me," he said.

He wants to win. Wants to turn pro and earn the millions that his adviser Shelly Finkel says will go to a fighter with charisma and character. Wants to bring joy to his family.

De la Hoya is surrounded by 10 family members here: brothers, cousins, and a father.

But he fights for his mother. Each day when he was training in Los Angeles, he jogged past her grave in Resurrection Cemetery. And if all goes well in Barcelona, he will return to that grave bearing a gold medal, fulfilling a promise.

"I believe nothing will stop me from getting that medal," he said. "I want to accomplish this dream for her. It will be the happiest moment in my life when I show her that gold."

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