Dubious decisions from bizarre Olympic boxing events down the years

A general view of the Olympic rings near the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in London

A general view of the Olympic rings near the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in London - Credit: PA

Dubious points decisions affecting the amateur ring careers of many Olympic hopefuls are, and sadly, really too numerous to categorise effectively.

But we look at some, but by no means all, of the more bizarre and often interesting and even pleasing aspects of Olympic ring history through the years.

In St Louis in 1904, American Oliver Kirk won two gold medals at 115 and 125 pounds, he is the only ever boxer to have done so and will no doubt, remain so forever.

Boxers in lighter weight classes could, at that time, also compete in heavier weight classes too; as long as they were not over the maximum weight for each category. Only boxers from the USA were involved in these summer Games.

The 1908 Games in London were the only time the boxing event was completed in one day. Contests were over three rounds, the first two over three minutes duration, the third round lasted for four minutes.

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In 1920 in Amsterdam, GB middleweight Harry Mallin was the gold medalist and during the tournament one of his opponents, Sam Lagonia (USA) at the quarter-final stage was disqualified for

persistent holding.

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The American team were distressed and very unhappy over the verdict and contemplated withdrawing from the Games. It is understood they felt that it was Mallin who should have been disqualified for that offence.

The verdict stood and the situation eventually calmed down and in due course and two victories later the east London policeman went on to lift the Olympic


In Paris in 1924, Mallin was caught up in another controversy and once again at the quarter-final stage.

French hero Roger Brousse was the opponent and was awarded the verdict (2-1) the judges having overruled Mallin’s protest after he had shown some bite marks mainly on his chest to

the referee.

A Swedish official who was also an IOC member lodged an appeal and brought forward evidence that Mallin had been bitten and an Argentine boxer Manolo A Gallardo also reported that

he had also been bitten by Brouse in an earlier bout at the Games.

The appeal jury deliberated for sometime, (until the following evening in fact), but eventually concluded that Brousse should be disqualified from the Games; although they stated that Brousse’s actions were “not deemed to have been deliberate”.

When the disqualification was made known, disturbances broke out among the French crowd and police later restored order in the Velodrome d’hiver.

Two bouts later Mallin had retained his Olympic crown, a feat only repeated 92 years later when Nicola Adams retained her Olympic flyweight crown in Rio de Janeiro.

The 1928 Games in Amsterdam saw the first two boxers from Asia participating – Fuji Okamoto and Kintaro Usuda from Japan.

In Los Angeles in 1932, we saw bouts now of 3x3 minute rounds and for the first time the referee officiated from inside the ring. Green and red belts were introduced to distinguish each boxer.

The 1936 “Hitler Games” in Berlin saw two boxers chosen in each category and countries only decided who should participate once they had arrived in Germany.

There was a real tragedy here for South African lightweight Thomas Hamilton-Brown who thought he had lost in his opening bout to Chile’s Carlos Lillo and had been eliminated from the Games. However, due to a scoring error the South African had in fact won the bout.

He then went on a large eating spree, presumably to console himself over his “defeat” but put on too much weight to be able to “return” to the lightweight category. A real shame for a “winner” deemed to be a “loser”.

In 1948 in London we were blighted by, yet again, poor officiating. Subsequently, the AIBA banned 19 out of 56 judges and 17 referees out of 37 for not being of the required standard. It was noted that the years of Second World War II had made it difficult to judge the standard of officials residing outside of Europe.

In 1952 in Helsinki the then Soviet Union (USSR) entered the summer Games for the first time and won two silver medals and two bronze medals. What influence the USSR was to have upon

the whole of the Olympic movement in the years to come was huge,

Also, in Helsinki we had a future professional heavyweight champion of the world, with Sweden’s Ingemar Johannson disqualified in the second round of the Olympic heavyweight final “for passivity” (in other words not trying), against Ed Sanders (USA).

He was finally given his silver medal in 1982, 30 years later. It really is difficult to comprehend, but that is what happened. The view from the Swedish camp was that Johannson was saving himself for a major onslaught against Sanders in the third and final round; all well and good, but the third round never happened and Johansson remains the only Olympic boxer to have been

disqualified in an Olympic final.

Melbourne in 1956 saw Olympic boxing history made with Hungary’s Laszlo Papp winning his third gold medal in a row.

The Rome 1960 Games saw the remarkable Cassius Marcellus Clay unleashed upon the world and boxing, in particular. Five judges instead of three were introduced at these Games.

In 1964, in Tokyo, two contestants “lost the plot” and struck out at the referee in their respective bouts.

First, Spanish featherweight Valentin Loren, after being disqualified, punched the referee, while Argentinian light-middleweight Jose Roberto Chirino was disqualified in his bout with eventual USSR gold medalist Boris Lagutin for hitting out at the referee.

In contrast, Chinese Taiwai’s Jo Dong-Gi adopted a pacifist approach, remaining in the ring for 51 minutes after being disqualified against USSR’s Stanislav Sorokin. Two different ways of protesting against disqualification, neither worth the candle, as all three proponents were sent packing out of the Olympics.

Moscow in 1980 saw Cuban heavyweight Teofilo Stevenson become the second boxer to win a gold medal at three successive Games.

In 1984 in Los Angeles, we recall the Evander Holyfield debacle when he was very controversially disqualified by referee Gligorije Novicic (then of Yugoslavia) in his light-heavyweight semi-final with Kevin Barry of New Zealand for punching and flooring Barry after what was a “call to stop”.

Interestingly enough, the American was unusually allowed to retain his bronze medal although the disqualification stood.

Male boxers were for the first time required to wear protective headgear at the 1984 Games and this ruling remained in force up and until 2012.

In Seoul, South Korea in 1988 we saw what remains widely recognised as the worst decision in Olympic boxing history, especially Olympic final boxing history.

Light-middleweight, Roy Jones Jnr (USA) was widely tipped for the gold medal but adjudged to have lost a 3-2 decision to Park Si-Hun, a decision that few if any then or since could possibly understand.

Jones received the Val Barker Trophy “for the best boxer in the tournament” and the ramifications and fall-out over the decision rumbled on for many years thereafter.

In essence, this

decision directly led to the introduction of electronic punch counters in the 1992 Games.

Also in Seoul we had the bizarre case of a bantamweight match between South Korea’s Byeon Jeongii and Bulgarian Aleksandar Khristov, who got a controversial 4-1 verdict over the home favourite before the New Zealand referee Keith Walker was attacked by South Korean officials and a melee and general free-for-all ensued.

The police eventually restored order in the venue, although the South Korean boxer then stayed on his own in the ring for around an hour as his contribution to the protests.

In 1996, we had another very high flying amateur from the USA eliminated via a close and doubtful points decision, as featherweight Floyd Mayweather Jnr was ruled to have lost 10-9 which went the way of Bulgaria’s Serafim Todorov.

We cannot seem to get away from controversial officiating, judging or refereeing, as it has blighted amateur boxing for decades now and continues to do so to this very day.

The Sydney 2000 Olympics saw Cuban heavyweight Felix Savon become the third boxer to win a gold medal at three Olympic Games in succession while in Athens in 2004, for the second and last time so far, contests were over 4x2 minute rounds with five scoring judges were officiating.

The London 2012 Games saw women participating in boxing for the first time, in three weight categories (fly, light and middle).

Women’s boxing at the Olympics was here to stay, but sadly once again judging came under close scrutiny and two verdicts were overturned on appeal, a very

rare occurrence in international competition.

The 2016 Rio Games were also blighted by judging and scoring controversaries, when will it ever change, I wonder if it ever will?

Male boxers were no longer required to wear protective headgear and the “10 points must” system was in operation, while women had to continue to wear protective headgear as they had done at London 2012.

What will boxing at the delayed Tokyo Games have in store for us next year?

Difficulties often do arise due to official errors, sometimes due to judging, sometimes due to refereeing, sometimes due to a combination of both errors.

Many years ago a colleague said to me: “we all see the same thing, but we all see it differently”. I think he had a good and valid point so perhaps we should bear this in mind when we analyse judges decisions generally and disputed ones in particular.

Judging a contest can be very subjective and often difficult to determine. In all the years I have followed and written about boxing, I have come across very few coaches who have honestly admitted that their man lost a points decision let alone a controversial one; so perhaps spare a thought for the judges when they come to make their final decisions.

They will not always get it right; let alone get it right for everyone concerned; but often they can and should do better and be more consistent. They are after all human beings and people do get things wrong for whatever reason.

I am not defending or condoning mistakes; merely pointing out that things are not always that straightforward as we would like them to be. If you always act with honesty and integrity you cannot be faulted or can you?

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