Four Cubans fight for gold Sunday

Updated: August 28, 2004, 3:43 PM ET
Associated Press

ATHENS, Greece -- The moment was almost too much for Thai boxer Manus Boonjumnong. He had just won a gold medal, and now his country's king was on the phone to congratulate him.

Boonjumnong sobbed as he held the cell phone in one hand and a picture of King Bhumibol Adulyadej in the other. He listened for a few minutes, so emotional that he was able to only give one-word answers to his king.

"I fought for my king, who urged me to be strong in my final bout," Boonjumnong said. "I dedicate the gold medal to my family and to all the people of Thailand. And, of course, to the king of Thailand."

Boonjumnong pulled the biggest upset of Saturday's five gold medal bouts, using ring movement and speed to beat Yudel Johnson of Cuba 17-11 in a light welterweight bout. Two other Cubans, heavyweight Odlanier Solis and flyweight Yuriokis Gamboa, both won their gold medal bouts.

Four more Cubans fight for gold medals Sunday when the final six weight classes are contested. Among them is the light heavyweight final, where American Andre Ward faces Magomed Aripgadjiev of Belarus.

Boonjumnong made sure the powerful Cuban team wouldn't tie its record of seven gold medals in Barcelona by beating Johnson in a tactical bout that had the Cuban team and its fans upset.

The Cubans booed Boonjumnong when he took the podium to accept his gold medal, still upset over the bout's scoring.

"The referees were not adequate," Johnson said. "They didn't take into account many things I did, and the other fighter should have been penalized for things he did. I believe the gold medal should be mine."

Boonjumnong, who had urged fans back home to watch him fight on television at his family's home to encourage the spirits of the house to help him win, built up a lead in the early rounds and protected it in the fourth round.

About two dozen of his countrymen cheered nearby, dressed in costumes with their faces painted. They held pictures of the king and tried to drown out the boos from the crowd.

"It may have looked like I was more defensive than offensive in this fight, but that was my coach's strategy," Boonjumnong said. "When you have a lead, you have to protect it. Some people in the audience didn't understand the way I fought, but (the judges) did."

His win marked the third straight Olympics in which Thais have won gold.

Cuba came into the finals with seven boxers remaining, and Gamboa promptly won the first Cuban gold of the games against Jerome Thomas of France. Thomas, who captured a bronze medal in Sydney, was aggressive but Gamboa was too fast for him inside in winning 38-23.

Gamboa's father once tried to make the Cuban national team, and was his son's first trainer.

"His dream was to become a member of the national boxing team," Gamboa said. "I promised him once that I would be here and I'm very happy I was able to keep that promise."

Solis, who replaced retired three-time Olympic champion Felix Savon as the Cuban heavyweight, beat Viktar Zuyev of Belarus in a lackluster 22-13 bout.

Two Russians also won golds. Alexei Tichtchenko beat Song Guk Kim of North Korea 39-17 at featherweight, while Gaydarbek Gaydarbekov beat Gennadiy Golovkin of Kazakhstan 28-18 in a middleweight bout.

Gaydarbekov said he would likely retire after winning his gold.

"I don't like to use words like 'dreams,' because I believe there's a destiny that awaits everybody," he said. "At the same time, you have to seize it. Winning in the Olympic Games is a dream, though."

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press