BARCELONA, Spain -- U.S. middleweight Chris Byrd spent the first round smirking at his opponent and shaking his head. Cuba's Ariel Hernandez just kept dancing, and before Byrd knew it, his chance of winning an Olympic gold medal was gone.
The fighters were tied 4-4 entering the third round, but Hernandez outboxed Byrd in the final three minutes to earn a 12-7 decision -- the fourth by a Cuban over an American at these Olympics, the first including both countries since 1976.
Lightweight Oscar de la Hoya was the only U.S. fighter to earn a gold medal, but four Cubans won golds yesterday, and four more compete in finals today. The impoverished island nation will finish with nine medals in 12 weight classes, the United States, three.
Irish welterweight Michael Carruth was the only fighter to defeat a Cuban yesterday, giving his country as many boxing golds as the United States. The Netherlands, Canada, Spain and Nigeria can match that feat today, because Byrd was the last remaining American.
Byrd, the son of U.S. coach Joe Byrd, defeated his first four opponents by a combined score of 75-15. But in the final, he abandoned his normal strategy of fighting off the ropes to chase Hernandez, who was moving all over the ring.
"I was trying to figure him out in the first round, and I couldn't," Byrd said.
"He moved so much, he out-counterpunched me. I didn't get to prove to the world what I can do. I know I can do a lot better. But the guy didn't fight back."
Byrd said the decision could have "gone either way," but Hernandez dominated the final round, especially the final 90 seconds.
Nevertheless, Joe Byrd took pride in Chris' Olympic performance, saying, "He put on a clinic here up until today."
Like de la Hoya, Chris now plans to turn professional, but as a silver medalist, not gold. "I had my heart set on a gold medal," he said. "After I saw Oscar win, I wanted it so bad. But I was very happy to make it the finals. No one expected me to do it, but I did."