ATHENS, Greece -- Just when all seemed lost for the U.S.
boxing team, Andre Ward remembered what his late father said about
big fights and bigger fighters.
It was a lesson some of his teammates apparently never learned.
"My father always told me that in big fights you have to rise
to the occasion," Ward said. "That's what great fighters do."
Ward did just that Tuesday night, saving the U.S. boxing team
from its most embarrassing Olympics ever by upsetting two-time
world champion Evgeny Makarenko of Russia in a light heavyweight
bout few gave him a chance to win.
Ward was smaller, less experienced and entered the ring to
resounding boos from the crowd. By the time he left, though, he had
guaranteed himself at least a bronze medal -- and quite possibly
made himself a favorite for the gold.
"Hopefully we can bring some pride back to the USA," Ward
That pride was seriously lacking a day earlier in a halfhearted
effort by super heavyweight Jason Estrada. But Ward finally gave
U.S. coaches something to smile about against a fighter who towered
over him in the ring.
Ward pictured the fight as a modern day version of David vs.
Goliath, then went out and played David to perfection by moving and
punching, staying inside and frustrating the 6-foot-6 Russian. By
the time the final seconds ticked away, he had a 23-16 decision
that put him in a semifinal fight Friday against Utkirbek Haydarov
"This victory is already behind me. I don't have time to relish
it," said Ward, whose father died two years ago. "I've still got
two tough fights left."
Ward and middleweight Andre Dirrell are the only two Americans
left in the boxing competition, and the United States was looking
at the real possibility of being shut out of medals for the first
time ever in the Olympics.
But Ward made sure the team would at least tie the 1948 team --
which won one medal -- with perhaps the biggest upset of the
tournament so far. Dirrell fights on Wednesday against Cuba's
"He patched the wound up," U.S. coach Basheer Abdullah said.
"He felt the pain and gave us some relief."
Ward, who is devoutly religious, said he spent much of the day
praying about his fight and reading about David and Goliath.
"Everybody I fight is supposed to be bigger and stronger than
me," Ward said.
The analogy was a good one for a fighter who is basically a
blown-up middleweight going up against the much taller Makarenko.
Ward hadn't lost a fight in six years of amateur boxing, but he
had little international experience and had never faced a fighter
like Makarenko. U.S. coaches drew up detailed fight plans for other
boxers, but decided to simply let Ward be himself in this fight,
and use his unorthodox style to his advantage.
It worked from the opening bell on, with Ward negating the
Russian's reach by moving quickly inside to throw one or two quick
punches, then moving outside again. When the Russian would land,
Ward would tie him up, then try to punch him coming out of the
"The strategy was going to be just move away from his right
hand, but we decided to just let Andre be himself," Abdullah said.
"He boxed a beautiful bout."
Abdullah needed a phone call from home to regain his composure
from the night before, when Estrada gave little effort and said he
didn't care if he won or lost.
"It was a combination of the loss and the way the U.S. athlete
conducted himself after the loss," Abdullah said. "He didn't show
any class, any pride or any respect. He embarrassed our country,
our national governing body and the USOC."
British teenager Amir Khan, meanwhile, continued to be the
sensation of the tournament, stopping Jong Sub-baik of South Korea
with a flurry of punches with 23 seconds left in the first round.
A 17-year-old lightweight who is the only member of the British
boxing team in Athens, Khan is the youngest boxing medalist since
Floyd Patterson in 1952.