BARCELONA, Spain -- And the tally -- without, thankfully, th services of any computer keypad -- is eight wins, two losses and two byes. Ten U.S. boxers are still in the gold rush and two are on vacation in Spain, one of whom (Julian Wheeler) was expected to be and another (Vernon Forrest) who was not.
With a rousing victory by lightweight Oscar de la Hoya and a puzzling loss by light welterweight Forrest last night at Joventut Pavilion, that is the status of the U.S. Olympic boxing team at the end of the preliminary round of competition and, according to head coach Joe Byrd, that is better than he expected.
"I thought we'd have maybe seven or so still alive at this point," Byrd said. "We're not in bad shape at the moment."
This, of course, was after the anxious moment that occurred in the second round of de la Hoya's bout, in which he caught a right hand from Brazil's Adilson Silva and emerged with blood streaming down his cheek from a small cut below his left eye. "When it first happened, I said, 'Oh, hell, we got cut,' " Byrd said. "But once I saw it in the corner, I said, 'It isn't bad as long as we don't get hit again.' "
De la Hoya, fighting with much more fire than he has displayed in recent bouts, saw to that, ripping off an explosive Round 3 flurry that opened cuts above and below Silva's right eye and leaving him helpless, forcing referee Nourdine Chergui to stop the fight with seven seconds to go. De la Hoya, the golden boy of the team who has all but had the gold medal draped around his neck by family, friends and USA boxing officials for the past two years, dropped Silva with a sharp left hook in the first round, led 15-3 after two rounds and 24-9 at the time of the stoppage.
"At first I was worried because when I closed my eye I could feel it swelling," de la Hoya said of the cut. "But now I know it's just a little scrape. I feel great."
Forrest did not feel great, either before or after his bout. The lanky 6-footer from Augusta, Ga., suffered a bout of stomach flu Tuesday night and all day Wednesday, prompting Byrd to consider scratching him from his bout at yesterday morning's weigh-in. But Forrest made no excuses for his flat showing against Britain's Peter Richardson, who swarmed all over him for the first two rounds. Trailing 10-5 after two, Forrest nearly pulled out a win in Round 3, pummeling Richardson into two standing eight-counts before losing, 14-8.
"Damn, I almost knocked the guy out," a disconsolate Forrest said. "I figured after that third round, how could I lose?"
Byrd, however, believed that Forrest had lost the fight, especially since Richardson had been given only a 4-3 edge in the first JTC round, which he appeared to win far more decisively. "I think it all evened out," Byrd said. "You've got to remember, the machine has helped us out a couple of times, too."
He was referring specifically to middleweight Raul Marquez's win over David Dafiagbon of Nigeria Monday night in which his 8-7 win was decided by a punch landed in the final 20 seconds. That was the U.S. team's closest call in the first round, although heavyweight Danell Nicholson and light-heavyweight Montell Griffin also were involved in squeakers.
But now, trailing only the mighty Cubans -- who suffered their first defeat in 12 matches last night when lightweight Julio Gonzales was beaten by Bulgaria's Tontchev Tontcho, 14-12, in a sensational bout -- the U.S. team seems poised to win perhaps a half-dozen medals.
Today, super-heavyweight Larry Donald, who drew a first-round bye, has his first bout, against the Unified Team's Nikolai Koulpine, and coach Byrd's son Chris, Nicholson and Montell Griffin have second-round bouts. Flyweight Tim Austin, who also got a bye, fights for the first time on Sunday.
"That's the round that will really tell us where this team is going," Byrd said.