Philippines, 29 Feb 2024
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The death of Cuban heavyweight boxing great Teofilo Stevenson due to heart attack caused the tiny Communist nation to mourn. He was a three-time Olympic gold medalist and considered one of the greatest of all time and the most accomplished amateur boxer in history.

Stevenson won the gold in 1972 in Munich, in 1976 at Montreal and in 1980 in Moscow. He could have won in Los Angeles in 1984 and even in Seoul in 1988 had Cuba did not boycott the two Games due to political reasons. He became the second boxer to win gold medals in three separate Games after Hungarian Lazlo Papp. Another Cuban Felix Savon, accomplished the feat in 1992, 1996, and 2000 Olympics.

US boxing promoters offered him a prize of $5 million to turn professional and fight Mohammad Ali, then world heavyweight champion, and he was quoted as saying ?What is $1 million compared to the love of 8 million Cubans?? Sports Illustrated magazine bannered the headline: "He'd Rather Be Red Than Rich." He remained loyal to the Cuban revolution headed by Fidel Castro, which outlawed professionalism in sports. Stevenson later became a coach of Cuban boxers and served as vice president of Cuba's boxing federation and at the island's national sports institute.

It was reported that up to 25% of the Cuban population regularly engaged in sports and it could be higher. In the past 40 years, Cuba has emerged as a surprisingly competitive nation in international sports such as skating, athletics and women's volleyball. Cubans have also won gold medals in baseball, boxing, wrestling, judo, and taekwondo.

All over Cuba presently there are 494 boxing coaches and 185 facilities. Of the 99,000 athletes in Cuba currently, 19,000 are boxers, 81 of Olympic proficiency, even though only 12 boxers comprise the Olympic team.

Although Cuban professional boxers conventionally performed well, the country did not win an Olympic medal in boxing until after 1959 when the government poured so many resources for the development of sports as a result of the Cuban revolution.

In 1961, the Revolutionary government banned professionalism in boxing as well as in other sports. It was in amateur boxing where Cuba was so dominating. At the 1980 Moscow Olympics, Cuban boxers swept the competition, winning ten medals, six of them gold. At the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, the Cubans improved with seven gold and two silver medals.

By the 1980s, Cuban boxers were dominant in all major international amateur tournaments, including the Olympics. From 1968 in Mexico City to Sydney 2000, Cubans have participated in seven Olympics, winning twenty seven gold medals, thirteen silver medals, and seven bronze medals for a total of forty seven. Cuba is the only country with two three-time Olympic champions Stevenson and Savon, both heavyweights.

At the 2000 Olympic Games, the Cuban team was the most successful out of all boxing teams that entered, winning four gold medals. Their last golden performance was in the 2004 Athens Olympics when the Cuban boxers had a 5-2-1 gold-silver-bronze performance.

But in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, all four Cuban boxers lost in their final bouts. They only got four silver medals and four bronze medals in China. Some experts considered this as a deterioration of the Cuban boxing supremacy. Other countries also have advanced their boxing competence.

Cuba has so far qualified eight boxers, all male, for the Olympic boxing competition in London. They are light flyweight Yosvany Veitia, flyweight Robeisy Ramirez, bantamweight Lazaro ?lvarez, lightweight Yasniel Toledo, light welterweight Roniel Iglesias, light heavyweight Julio Cesar la Cruz, heavyweight Jose Larduet and super heavyweight Erislandy Savon, the nephew of Felix.

The death of Stevenson surely gives an added boost to Cuba?s drive to regain lost glory in the sport they used to dominate for several Olympics and world championships.

Photo: Teofilo Stevenson (C) of Cuba dominated amateur boxing for 14 years.

Click here to view a list of other articles written by Maloney L. Samaco.

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