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Young boxer can't hide his enthusiasm

7/29/2004

There was plenty of pressure on Vanes Martirosyan as he stepped into the
ring for the beginning of the Western trials in February. It wasn't that the then 17-year-old would have to win five fights in five days to make
it to the Olympic trials.

"My dad is a smoker," Martirosyan said. "He told me that once I won the
Western trials, he would quit smoking. I wanted him to quit smoking because
it's not good for me and it's especially not good for him."

And despite being ranked 14th in the country in his weight class in January, Martirosyan ran the gauntlet in Bakersfield, Calif., going 5-0 with two stoppages.

"I went to the Western trials and beat the number two guy right out of the
gate in the first night," Martirosyan said. "I won the whole tournament and
then he told me that if I won the (Olympic) trials, then he would quit smoking."

So Martirosyan geared up again. With two of the top
152-pounders Andre Berto and Juan McPherson disqualified after their
controversial match-up, the Armenian born teenager made his way through the
trials unscathed, earning a spot as the U.S. representative at welterweight. --
a spot he further proved his worthiness of when he defeated Berto (now
fighting for Haiti) in the Americas' qualifier in Tijuana in March.

More important, Norik Martirosyan quit smoking -- for now.

"After I made the team, then he quit smoking," said the 18-year-old
welterweight, "but I think he's starting back up. He might be doing it for
me to win the Gold."

If Martirosyan does stand on that podium in Athens next month, it will be
the culmination of a great story that began in Armenia, where Martirosyan
lived with his parents and three siblings until the family moved to the
States in 1990. Three years after arriving, Norik Martirosyan brought his
son to the boxing gym.

"He felt I was an active kid and my father was a boxer also, so he put me in
boxing when I was seven years old," Martirosyan said. "I started training
and I started boxing."

Ironically, as he grew up, one of his local heroes was current
teammate Andre Ward, and he aspired to the same type of success the light
heavyweight from Oakland was enjoying.

"When I was little I always used to watch Andre Ward fight where we used to
live because he was from California," remembered Martirosyan. "He used to
put on a show. After all that, I just trained every day. I would go online
and look at the computer, look at the ranked guys, and I would always say,
'When I'm older, I'll be on top if I win this tournament.'

"My dad always used to tell me that you're just gonna come straight up top. I just worked
hard and worked hard and when I turned 17, I started fighting open and my dad
said just go to the Olympic trials, do your best, and we'll just think about
2008 if you don't make this team. Just go out and have fun. Once I made
the trials, I just went out there and had fun, and everything just worked
out great and I made the team."

Plus, now he has Ward not as just a fighter to admire, but as a teammate.

"I look up to him like my older brother on the team," he said. "Me and
Rau'Shee (Warren) are the youngest guys, so I look up to these guys like my
older brothers. They give me advice and try to break me in."

What about ribbing him and Warren because they're the youngest?

"They try to toughen me up a bit, but it's good though," he said, laughing.

Home schooled, Martirosyan was taken out of junior high by his father
when it was obvious that he needed to keep his son's fighting confined to
the ring. It was a wise choice.

"There were fights going on and stuff like that, so my dad saw that that
wasn't good for me and he took me out," Martirosyan said. "Just because I
was a boxer, friends tried to push me into fights, or try to be friends with
me because I was a boxer. My dad found that out, so he took me out and said
this is the best thing for you. You can get your education at home and you
can do what you love to do, which is boxing."

And that love for the game is obvious. In a sport where a poker face is
essential to success, Martirosyan can't hide his enthusiasm. This is a kid
who is genuinely happy to be here. And with his success also comes the
spoils -- a celebrity status most 18-year-olds can only dream of.

"Where I live in Glendale, it's a big Armenian community so everybody's
proud of me," Martirosyan said. "When I walk out of my house people point
at me and congratulate me. One lady even came up to me and kissed me.
People cry when they see me on the streets because they're so proud of me.
You don't see many Armenians come to the United States and make the Olympic
team."

That fact is not lost on Martirosyan.

"My family is really happy because we finally have a way to thank this
country," he said.

Yet win or lose in Athens, you get the impression that Vanes Martirosyan
will be just fine.

"I don't look at things in a bad way," he said. "I always look at them in a
good way. I think that's why it worked out for me this way. Every time, no
matter what happened, I always had a smile. I just go back into the gym,
work hard, come back, and do my best again."

If that best earns him a medal next month, don't worry -- Martirosyan, like
practically all his teammates, has already lived the moment out a thousand
times.

"Every time I'm running in the morning, listening to that CD player,
sometimes when I'm laying in my room, tears come out of my eyes just
thinking about it," he said. "I get chills all over my body thinking about
standing on the podium with my gold medal with the red, white, and blue. It
feels so good, it's the best feeling in the world."