Ward fought back from deficit
ATHENS, Greece -- Andre Ward and his father had been too close not to share this moment, just like they shared everything else. Standing on the medal podium, Ward looked upward and blew a kiss to the man who had meant so much to him.
Frank Ward would have been proud of his son -- an Olympic gold medalist.
Boxing in the memory of his late father, Ward became the only American boxer to win a gold medal in Athens, beating Magomed Aripgadjiev of Belarus on Sunday to claim the light heavyweight title.
Ward's father, who introduced his son to boxing, died suddenly two years ago and Ward boxed through the Olympics with a picture of him in his shoes. Deeply religious, Ward said he believes his father helped guide him to the gold.
"I felt his spirit all through this tournament,'' Ward said.
Ward's win in the last fight of the Games salvaged what had been a bleak Olympics for the U.S. boxing team, which brought nine boxers to Athens but had only one bronze medal to show for it before Ward stepped in the ring.
Showing the maturity that most of his teammates lacked, Ward shook off a swollen eye to turn the fight around in the third round and win a 20-13 decision.
"I just couldn't see myself coming away with a bronze or silver medal,'' Ward said. "I couldn't see myself settling for that.''
It was the first gold medal for the United States since David Reid's win in 1996, and it couldn't have come at a better time for the beleaguered U.S. boxing program. American boxers seemed lost much of the time at these Games, unable to adapt to international scoring and unwilling to change their styles.
Not Ward, whose singular focus on winning a gold medal carried him to four wins and the top prize.
"If a lot of other guys on this team were mature like him and didn't lose discipline, they would have been here too,'' assistant U.S. coach Al Mitchell said. "He's a good role model and we need role models in this sport.''
On a day when Cuba won three more golds and British teenage sensation Amir Khan came up short in his gold-medal bout, Ward found his mark with quick inside punches in the third round to pull ahead.
Ward trailed after two rounds, but came on strong in the final two despite a swelling around his right eye that coaches worked on in the corner between rounds. He won the third round 7-2, then remained aggressive with quick flurries in the final round to seal the win.
"I felt he was much quicker than me,'' Aripgadjiev said.
Ward had a cheering section of family members rooting him on, an atmosphere much different than Friday's semifinal bout, where he was booed by the crowd from the moment he entered the arena.
He admitted that the pressure of the moment slowed him down in the first two rounds.
"I wasn't having fun the first two rounds. I was kind of tight because I've got the country and world on my shoulders,'' Ward said. "But I loosened up and picked it up."
In previous Olympics, the 20-year-old father of two from Oakland, Calif., would have been an attractive candidate for a promoter to sign for big money. Because Olympic boxing wasn't widely shown on American television, though, Ward's market value won't be as high.
Still, he said he plans to pursue a pro career.
"I have to go home, settle down and see what's on the table,'' he said.
Cuba ended the boxing tournament with five gold medals, two more than Russia. Defending Olympic champion Guillermo Rigondeaux and Mario Kindelan both won, and so did light flyweight Yari Bhartelemy.
The Cuban total didn't match the seven golds won in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, but was better than the four Cuba took home in each of the last two games.
In perhaps the most anticipated final, Kindelan beat Khan for the lightweight gold.
Kindelan was too wily and experienced for the 17-year-old Khan, who had won four straight fights in impressive fashion. The Cuban piled up points counterpunching, then got out of the way when Khan tried to press the fight.
Late in the fourth round, Khan had the crowd roaring when he landed a series of right hands, but it was never enough. He ended up dropping a 30-22 decision to the 33-year-old Cuban, who said he would retire after the games.
"You stick around and you'll be the next gold medalist and next world champion,'' Kindelan told Khan after the fight.
Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press