Red Erring

To the boxers who will square off in Red China, retired Olympian Nicholas Spanakos makes a cautionary tale.

Spanakos would not be the last boxer to get railroaded at the Olympics. A thoroughly pummeled South Korean won a decision over Roy Jones Jr. at the 1988 Seoul Olympics. Jones outpunched his opponent 86-32 — and went on to professional stardom, winning championship belts in multiple weight classes.

Spanakos later fought under the tutelage of Cus D'Amato, who would include Mike Tyson in his stable of fighters. D'Amato was picky about the bouts his fighters took, and often kept them in the amateurs longer than they'd like. Spanakos fought only one professional fight and won by decision. By the end of his boxing career, he had won Golden Gloves competitions, was the All-Army champion in 1964, and had fought at Madison Square Garden and Seattle Auditorium.

But the inexplicable decision in Rome has haunted him. "People ask me: 'How did you do in the Olympics?'" says Spanakos, who couldn't watch the games for a few years after the fight. "It's a source of embarrassment, and it's also a source of pride."

Nicholas Spanakos wearing his team jacket from the 1960 Rome Olympics.
Courtesy of Nicholas Spanakos
Nicholas Spanakos wearing his team jacket from the 1960 Rome Olympics.
Decades after the ill-fated Olympic bout against a Soviet pugilist, Spanakos is still carved out of wood.
Courtesy of Nicholas Spanakos
Decades after the ill-fated Olympic bout against a Soviet pugilist, Spanakos is still carved out of wood.

For the Chinese, boxing has been an almost complete bust. They have never even fielded a serious gold medal contender in the sport — though 110-pound flyweight Zou Shiming has a chance.

Spanakos says it would be stupid for the Chinese to cheat. But John Grasso, cofounder of the International Boxing Research Organization, expects controversy of the type that clouded the 1960 games. In the modern Olympic age, it's harder to skew results, if only because officials vet their judges more rigorously. "Olympic boxing has always been extremely controversial," Grasso says. "I don't expect the 2008 Beijing Games boxing events to be any less controversial."

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