OLYMPICS / Barcelona 1992: Boxing: Carruth finds a formula for success

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The Independent Online
AT AROUND about noon yesterday Michael Carruth was standing on a podium in the boxing arena here, listening to the beginnings of a great Irish celebration. 'That's a sound he'll remember for the rest of his life,' somebody said.

A gold medal dangled from Carruth's neck, the first for the Republic of Ireland since Ron Delany became champion at 1500 metres in the 1956 Melbourne Olympics.

This was more than most people had imagined for the 25-year- old army corporal from Dublin who was the least fancied of two Irish representatives in the Olympic boxing finals. In the first place he was going against Juan Hernandez, a tall Cuban. Then there was the accident that shortened his right arm by almost three inches, cruel for a southpaw. What had not been taken into account was the extent of Carruth's will and his intelligence.

Carruth and his father, Austin, one of the Irish coaches, came up with a plan to unsettle the Cuban that ran the risk of losing points for a foul. 'There wasn't any point in trying to outbox him,' Carruth said. 'But the Cubans aren't as effective when they have to come forward. The idea was to make him come at me.' In the second round Carruth was penalised three points for holding in a clinch. There was the risk.

But, even after his score had been reduced, Carruth was level

8-8 going into the final round, and an encouraging cheer went up from a small army of supporters, including practically every member of the Irish Olympic team. Carruth did not disappoint them, gamely staying with the plan, a 13-10 winner when the result was announced.

On hearing it, Carruth, one of boy triplets in a family of 10 children, leaped upwards, then bounded around the ring, unable to control his excitement. 'It was such a great thrill,' he said.

By then the Irish brigade were whooping it up. What joy. At the Melbourne Olympics they took three boxing medals: Fred Tiedt a silver, Freddie Gilroy and John Cauldwell bronze. But never before had there been anything like this. Gold for Carruth, silver for Wayne McCullough, who was outpointed by Joel Jhonson in the bantamweight final.

But for McCullough being a slow starter, it might have been even more of a triumph. Well behind after two rounds, feeling acute pain from a damaged left cheek every time the Cuban landed a blow there, he suddenly came alive, doing his best work of the contest, but it was too late. 'I just didn't get going soon enough,' he said.

Then came Carruth to inflict Cuba's only defeat in the first session of the finals. By far the most powerful team, they already have four gold medals and could take a record number.

However, that defeat ensured that Cuba, with nine men in the two-day finals, would not be able to equal the record set by the United States at the 1984 Los Angeles Games when they won nine golds. The Cubans did not attend those Games, or those in Seoul in 1988, for political reasons.

The 100 per cent record of the Cubans against the Americans here was maintained when the middleweight Ariel Hernandez outpointed Chris Byrd 12-7. Byrd's father, Joe, the United States' head coach, commenting on the worst US boxing performance since 1948 said: 'We were well away from what we should have been. We should have gone away with three golds and some silvers and bronzes.'

Cuba's gold-winning got underway yesterday, before Carruth momentarily stole their thunder, when the light-flyweight Rogelio Marcelo, a runner-up at the last two world championships, made the most of the opportunities presented to him to beat Daniel Bojinov, of Bulgaria, 24-10.

Another of Cuba's winners yesterday, the heavyweight Felix Savon, who beat David Izonritei, of Nigeria, 14-1, dedicated his gold to the Cuban revolution and said he would celebrate his victory by dancing until dawn.

'If it was not for the revolution in Cuba I would not be here in Barcelona,' Savon said. 'This gold medal is thanks to the revolution and I would like to thank the revolution. Cubans like sport, we're a great sporting nation so my medal is for the whole country, from Havana to the villages.'

Unbeaten in four years, Savon, like other Cuban gold medallists here, has rejected the idea of turning professional. 'I like boxing as a pastime, as leisure. I do all I do for my country, that's why I box. I will create my road as I go along and I hope it will last far beyond 2000.'

Savon, already a triple world champion at 24, said Cuba was celebrating its 11 gold medals in Barcelona and he was looking forward to returning home to join in the festivities.

'The country is already in party mood,' he said. 'And they'll come to the airport to greet us. This (success) is something due to the people and they deserve to see a champion greeting his people. It will be a marvellous homecoming and only something seen in socialist countries like Cuba.'

But Savon said he was first going to enjoy his favourite pastime, dancing, at the athletes' village. 'I would like to celebrate in the village, there is a dance hall there and I love dancing,' he said.

'I'm really going to let my hair down and I feel in the mood for a party, a carnival. I shall dance until my legs give out, until the early hours of the morning.'

But above all it was a great day for the Irish. The party has only just begun.

Paul Griffin, an Irish featherweight who tried to assault ringside officials when a doctor stopped his opening bout of the tournament last week, has had the resulting ban reduced from one year to six months because of his previously flawless record.

(Photograph omitted)