Ward still standing for U.S.

Win makes him only American to advance to gold-medal round

Boxing

Athens 2004 Olympics

August 28, 2004|By Steve Springer | Steve Springer,LOS ANGELES TIMES

ATHENS - Score tied. One round to go. A shot at an Olympic boxing gold medal at stake.

Apparently only U.S. coach Basheer Abdullah didn't know his 178-pound fighter, Andre Ward, was even with Utkirbek Haydarov of Uzbekistan at 13-13 after three rounds in last night's semifinal match at the Peristeri Olympic Boxing Hall.

Believing his light heavyweight was comfortably ahead, Abdullah told Ward to box and dance, a dangerous tactic when a few punches could turn gold into bronze.

Because scores are not made available to the fighters' corners during a match, Abdullah wouldn't learn the truth until just before Ward narrowly escaped with a 17-15 victory to send him into tomorrow's gold-medal match against Magomed Aripgadjiev of Belarus.

Seven of eight Cubans, three Russians and British upstart Amir Khan at 132 pounds advanced to the finals. The Cubans are attempting to best their four gold medals at the Sydney Games.

With 165-pound Andre Dirrell of the United States having lost his semifinal match, 23-18, earlier in the day to Gennadiy Golovkin of Kazakhstan, with the other seven U.S. fighters having lost earlier in the tournament, it is up to Ward to try to bring the United States its first Olympic gold in the ring since the 1996 Games.

"It still hasn't sunk in that I'm going to be fighting for a gold medal," said a sweat-soaked Ward after last night's fight.

He was close to losing that opportunity. The 20-year-old Oakland, Calif., fighter has won more than 100 consecutive amateur bouts spanning six years, but rarely has he come up against as tough an in-fighter as Haydarov, who kept his head low and repeatedly tried to bore into Ward's chest.

"He was a physical fighter," Abdullah said of Haydarov. "He tried to be rough."

The score stayed as close as Haydarov did to Ward - 5-3 after one round and 9-8 after two for Ward.

Ward couldn't shake loose long enough to do much dancing in the fourth round. The score was tied at 14, then 15.

The clock kept moving. Down to 20 seconds remaining in the bout. Down to 15.

Somewhere in the crowd, Ward heard someone from his rooting section yell the score was tied. By that point, Abdullah had also been informed of the tie score.

Ward backed away, got some room to swing his arms and landed a left hook.

That moved him in front, 16-15.

Down to five seconds. Another left hook.

Ward on top, 17-15.

And then time ran out.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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