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Boxing: A piece of silver but not quite Olympic gold

PUBLISHED: 12:00 14 June 2020

Commonwealth Games welterweight champion Nicky Gargano in training

Commonwealth Games welterweight champion Nicky Gargano in training

PA Archive/PA Images

There are plenty of male boxers who have landed silver medals in the boxing ring since the summer Games in London 1948 but could they have turned it into gold?

Great Britain's Amir Khan with his silver medal after losing to Cuba's Mario Kindelan in the lightweight final at the 2004 Olympics in AthensGreat Britain's Amir Khan with his silver medal after losing to Cuba's Mario Kindelan in the lightweight final at the 2004 Olympics in Athens

Boxing at London in 1948 focused on the Empire Pool at Wembley and then at the Empress Hall at Earls Court and a total of 250 boxers took part from 39 nations, representing the best number of contestants thus far in the summer Olympics.

Camden’s John Alan “Johnny” Wright reached the final of the middleweight division and boxed four times, eliminating Switzerland’s Herman Schneider (points); Argentina’s Hector Garcia (stoppage in 2nd round); Jan Schubart from the Netherlands (points) and Ireland’s Mick McKeon also on pts.

In the final he was to meet Hungarian southpaw Laszlo Papp, a hard hitter with superb ring skills, all in all a formidable opponent.

It proved to be a step too far for the north Londoner, as Papp clearly won the contest winning all three rounds (3-0) and flooring Wright twice in the second session.

Great Britain's Joe Joyce with his silver medal from the 2016 Olympic super-heavyweight finalGreat Britain's Joe Joyce with his silver medal from the 2016 Olympic super-heavyweight final

Wright was like the 300 other amateur boxers who lost to Papp. The Hungarian master was human after all in that he lost 12 contests and drew six. But he won gold medals at light-middleweight in 1952 and 1956 and thus became the first boxer to win gold medals at three successive summer Games.

He remains to this day Hungary’s greatest ever amateur boxer and still retains legendary status in his country, 17 years after his death in 2003.

All we can say is that Wright met a true ring legend and one of the greatest ever amateur boxers, so a silver medal was a wonderful achievement from the late Camden ring hero.

Also in London, Derby light-heavyweight, Don Scott won a silver medal as he started with a bye, then defeated opponents from Hungary, Italy and Australia to set up a final clash with outstanding South African prospect, George Hunter.

The South African was a clear unanimous winner (3-0) and was also awarded the Val Barker Trophy for his performances in the Games, culminating in his golden triumph.

Yet again, all we can conclude is that Scott met the “Best Boxer” in the Games and thus, his silver medal was a very commendable reward for his efforts in London.

The 1956 Olympics in Melbourne, Australia took place in the climate of “The Cold War”, in light of then USSR’s Red Army invasion of Hungary and although 164 boxers from 35 nations were to take part, 161 weighed-in from 34 nations.

The West Melbourne Stadium was the setting for the boxing tournament and featherweight Tommy Nicholls from Wellington in Shropshire was the European champion in 1955 and one of the hot favourites.

It came as no surprise that he reached the final where he met the relatively unknown USSR man Vladimir Safronov.

The Soviet boxer was only at the Games due to an injury sustained by top Soviet featherweight Aleksandr Zasukhin, beaten by Nicholls in the European final in 1955.

Nicholls had disposed of opponents from Australia and Japan before in the semi-final outpointing Finland’s outstanding Pentti Hamalainen, who had outscored Nicholls at bantamweight in the second round of 1952 Helsinki Games.

It looked good for Nicholls against Safronov as the first bell rang and it proved to be a good close contest but in many ways Safronov upset the odds and flooring Nicholls once in their contest probably helped him squeeze home with the verdict to become the first boxer from USSR to win a boxing gold medal.

Although still a fine feat to land a silver medal, Nicholls might have been expected to win gold, but he just came up a little short against an opponent who really did little else at international level after his golden moment in Melbourne.

It is also worth mentioning at this stage with the “Cold War” influence much in force, the case of West Ham-born welterweight, southpaw Nicolo “Nicky” Gargano, who went to Melbourne as the red hot favourite for the gold medal.

Conspiracy theories were rife at the time and remained so for so long after Melbourne, with the “Red Mist” of Soviet internal power and also their influence and leverage amongst their neighbouring satellite countries of much concern to many western European nations.

Gargano went to Melboune as European champion in 1955 and steered his way to the semi-finals, where he met Nicolae Linca, a two-time European bronze medallist. The Romanian

got a very controversial points verdict over Gargano causing huge uproar.

Protests and appeals followed but to no avail; but conceivably even worse was to follow when Linca got a 3-2 split verdict over Ireland’s Freddy Tiedt in the Olympic final, despite the fact that the Irishman had scored more points 299-297 in their final.

As with the Gargano fiasco, Linca’s result against Tiedt stood. It is interesting to note these Games delivered the first boxing gold medals from contestants from the Soviet Union and Romania. Scores for Linca’s bout with Tiedt went like this; two judges had it for the Irishman 60-58, a Polish judge had it 60-59 for the Romanian and two judges had it 60-60 apiece, but each gave “the nod” to Linca.

Gargano never boxed again and many years later he and I became good friends and he remained very disappointed by the perverse judging treatment he had received in Melbourne.

Theories that existed at the time and did so subsequently for many years, were that, given GB had already won gold medals via Terry Spinks (flyweight) and Scotland’s Dick McTaggart (lightweight) that was enough for the Soviet and Eastern European Bloc to stomach and they wanted their own share of the gold medal cake.

We will never know the real truth about the goings on in Melbourne, save to say that by any standards some of the decisions of the judges were virtually impossible to comprehend.

Also in Melbourne, McTaggart won the coveted Val Barker Trophy.

At that time the decisions against Gargano and Tiedt were the most controversial and troubling for the GB and the Irish team respectively, denying almost certainly the former the chance to box in an Olympic final and the latter the most precious prize of a gold medal. Tiedt did turn professional but his short paid career was not that successful.

In no way do I put any blame on individual boxers for the particular medals they may or may not have received; if blame is deserved by anyone it is the various officials involved who made those choices.

Linca remains to this day the only Romanian boxer to win a gold medal. I would like to assure readers that I have read the boxing section in the Official IOC report on the Melbourne

Games and it just records Linca defeating Gargano and Teidt on points, no more, no less.

Unless you knew the background to those contests in particular, you would not know the controversy surrounding them.

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Living in communist-run Romania, Linca was unable to turn professional and appeared to have a rather undistinguished career following his Olympic gold medal success, merely reaching the

quarter-final stage of the European Championships in 1959. In essence was he therefore a one tournament wonder or something else, I will leave you to ponder that one?

In Melbourne, the USSR came out as the top nation with three gold, one silver and two bronze; Team GB had two golds, one silver and two bronze, whereas Romania had one gold, two silver and one bronze. Interesting statistics, with many unsolved mysteries behind them.

For the first time in Olympic ring history the USSR were at the top of the medal haul in Melbourne and they were thus sending out a powerful message to all other nations seeking to overhaul them.

The 2004 Athens Olympics saw a 17-year-old from Bury, named Amir Iqbal Khan, win a silver medal at lightweight.

Khan was Team GB’s sole representative in the ring, with 280 participants from 72 nations taking part and boxing at the Peristeri Olympic Boxing Hall in west Athens.

Khan cruised to the final in very impressive style, winning four times to set up an Olympic final encounter with Cuba’s reigning Olympic champion, southpaw Mario Kindelan.

On his way to meeting Kindelan, Khan beat Greek rival Marios Kaperonis with a third-round stoppage when he was 20 points ahead, outpointed Dimitar Stilianov (Bulgaria) 37-21, stopped Baik Jong-Sub (South Korea) after 97 seconds of the first round and then outpointed Serik Yelevov (Kazakhstan) 40-26.

In the final, Kindelan triumphed by 30-22. In a pre-Olympic tournament he had also overcome Khan 33-13.

It was a huge task for Khan against the reigning Olympic champion and one of Cuba’s and also the world’s greatest ever lightweights and a tremendous effort by the Bolton teenager, but the class and skills of the Cuban champion proved too much. Kindelan was still at the top of his game which proved to be his Olympic swansong in Athens.

However, the following year saw Kindelan lured over to England and Khan beat him 19-13 at the Reebock Stadium, the home of Bolton Wanderers, in what was to prove to be Khan’s last

amateur contest.

Perhaps in some ways a meaningless victory as there was nothing really at stake, but Khan’s pride was restored as he had finally beaten the man who denied him an Olympic gold medal.

Now we turn to London 2012 and the case of Welsh welterweight Fred Evans who reached the Olympic final and won a silver medal.

First up, he outscored Algeria’s Ilyas Abbadi 18-10, then Egidijus Kavaliauskas 11-7, after the Lithuanian had beaten Evans in the 2011 Senior World Championships.

A very tough and tight quarter-final followed with Canada’s Custio Clayton, ending all square 14-14, but Evans was awarded the verdict on a “count back.”

The Canadians appealed, not unnaturally, and the bout was reviewed and scored again and Evans went through to the semi-final. The Canadian team remained unhappy however with the decision and made this known at the Games.

In his semi-final, Evans met Taras Shelestyuk from the Ukraine and squeezed home with a scoreline of 11-10.

The final was a bit of an uphill struggle for Evans and he was clearly outpointed by Kazakhstan’s southpaw Serik Sapiyev, who was awarded the Val Barker Trophy for the best stylistic boxer at the Games; thus becoming the third boxer from that country to be awarded that particular honour.

It was a great effort by Evans who thus became the most successful Welsh boxer in Olympic ring history.

Sapiyev was already a double world champion at light-welterweight and had also won silver and bronze medals at welterweight at World Championships. He was a tremendous boxer and one of

Kazakhstan’s absolute finest.

A total of 283 boxers (247 men, 36 women) from 77 countries took part at London 2012 across 13 weight categories.

Now we move to the Rio Games of 2016, the first time the summer Games had been held in South America.

Super-heavyweight Joe Joyce got the silver medal against Frenchman Tony Yoka, who was ranked number one in the world at that time, after what proved to be a very controversial final.

Many are still convinced today that Joyce should have been crowned Olympic champion, having been in fine form on his way to the final as he stopped Davilson dos Santos Morais from Cape Verde at the end of the first round. Morais was only the second boxer from Cape Verde to compete in the ring at the summer Games.

Then followed two unanimous victories (both 3-0) over Bakhodir Jalolov (Uzbekhistan) and Kazakhstan’s Ivan Dychko before Yoka awaited Joyce in the Olympic final.

They had previous history with one win apiece, Joyce winning gold at the European Games in Baku after comfortably outscoring Yoka (3-0) at the semi-final stage.

However, later in 2015 at the World Championships in Doha, Qatar, Yoka turned the tables on Joyce at the semi-final stage with a 3-0 win on his way to a gold medal and the top spot in the world in the super-heavyweight division.

Some saw this as a contentious decision and thought that Joyce had deserved better. Their Olympic final showdown was the perfect setting for their third meeting in such a short period of time and it went the way of Yoka on the “ten point must” system.

The three judges scored it 30-27 and 29-28 for Yoka and a score of 29-28 for Joyce. Another contentious decision which once again was a feature of these Games which had 283 entrants (247 men, 36 women) from 76 nations.

Three judges saw this contest differently, but is that surprising, possibly so? I am surprised one judge saw Yoka winning each session, the other two judges siding with each boxer in turn. I come back to my old favourite adage “we all see the same thing, but we all see it differently”. How can this be?

Only those three judges would be able to analyse it and hopefully explain it. If you act with honesty and integrity you are likely to get results that do not meet or match some others expectations. That is the nature of sport, not only boxing.

But it does often get more than its fair share of contentious decisions, and I suspect it always did. Let’s remember that important suggestion – judging a contest is often a difficult task, I can tell you that with certainty from my many years covering both codes of boxing.


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