Saturday, July 31, 2010

July 31, 1976: The boxers

MONTREAL - There wasn't much optimism surrounding the U.S. Olympic boxing team before the 1976 Olympics. Their young team was mostly unheralded, and it was thought that Cuba and the Soviet Union would dominate the boxing medals. Spirits were even lower because the U.S. had only won one gold medal at the previous Olympics and had ended their run of five straight heavyweight golds.

In the face of the pessimism, six U.S. boxers made surprising runs to the finals of their weight class, all of which were held on July 31. But things were only getting started.

It began with Leo Randolph in the flyweight final. Up against Ramón Duvalón of Cuba, Randolph won gold with a 3-2 decision. Charlie Mooney didn't fare nearly as well in the bantamweight class, losing a 5-0 decision to North Korea's Gu Yong-Jo.

Howard Davis, Jr., was next, beating Romania's Simion Cuţov in the lightweight division final by a 5-0 decision. Also winning a unanimous decision was light-welterweight Sugar Ray Robinson, who beat Cuba's Andrés Aldama, then said he was going to retire from boxing and go to college. But after learning he had a son and watching both his mother and father get hospitalized, Robinson scrapped his college plans and went on to become a world champion as a professional.

Back to Montreal, the last two finalists for the U.S. team were Michael and Leon Spinks, the first brothers to ever compete on the same U.S. boxing team. Younger brother Michael made the final in the middleweight division, beating the Soviet Union's Rufat Riskiev by knockout. Not wanting to be shown up by his little brother, Leon won the light-heavyweight gold by knockout, beating Cuba's Sixto Soria.

At the end of the day, the U.S. had five gold medals, plus a silver and a bronze, for its best single-Olympics boxing performance. It wasn't a fluke result, either, as all the gold medalists but Davis would go on to become recognized as world champions at some point in their professional careers.

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