Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Great Olympic Moments - The 1976 U.S. Boxing Team

For more than a dozen years running when I was growing up, my family would spend the last week of July at a cabin in South Lake Tahoe, swimming in the frigid lake every day (sometimes twice – once in the morning, and once in the afternoon), playing miniature golf, taking walks, and getting bored in the evenings while the adults would go down to Harvey’s or Harrah’s to gamble. We always brought a little TV, even though the reception was lousy, for those evenings with grandma.

Our trip in 1976 coincided with the final week of the 1976 Olympiad in Montreal, which meant that we were doing a lot of squinting during those evenings to try and figure out exactly what we were seeing. I think we put the TV in about 20 different positions, trying to find the spot that was best. We finally landed on the middle of the dinner table, which wasn’t very convenient for dinner, but worked well once the dishes were cleared (it was a small cabin).

My lasting memory of that Olympiad is the final night of boxing – July 31, 1976. That year, the U.S. had what was almost certainly the strongest boxing team it had ever put into the ring. But entering the games, one had to wonder whether even that was enough. The Cuban team had come seemingly out of nowhere at the 1972 Olympics – led by heavyweight Teofilo Stevenson (the mind still reels at what might have been had Castro allowed Stevenson to fight Ali, Foreman or Frazier – he was that good), they would dominate Olympic boxing for close to two decades.

But in 1976, it was the Americans’ turn. I remember watching each bout in succession, with my dad getting more excited with each one, and Howard Cosell about coming out of his chair with glee – although Howard prided himself on his objectivity, when it came down to this night, he clearly wanted the American men to walk out with the gold. And that night, five of them did:

• Leo Randolph, Flyweight
• Howard Davis, Lightweight
• Sugar Ray Leonard, Light Welterweight
• Michael Spinks, Middleweight
• Leon Spinks, Light Heavyweight

All five would go on to fight for a world championshp, and four would win one. Sugar Ray Leonard, the best of the bunch, would go on to become one of the greatest boxers in the history of the sport.

This clip shows Leonard’s winning bout, as called by Howard Cosell and George Foreman. Cosell is typically great (as he always was with boxing), but the real revelation here is Foreman. Even at such a young age, he clearly knew what he was talking about as a commentator, and expressed it well.

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