The same idea kept popping into Duane Bobick's head: "Here it is, maybe three or four years from now, and this ring announcer is holding up my hand and he's saying, '...and the new heavyweight champion of the world,' and then the announcer pauses, looks down at the front row, where my family is sitting, and adds, 'Except in Bowlus, Minnesota.' " Bobick, who became the heavyweight boxing champion of the Pan-American Games last week, chuckled. "Can you imagine that?" he said. "Me, the heavyweight champion, and right now I've got a father and two brothers at home who can clean my clock. And I've got eight more younger brothers who are still growing. Heck, someday I might be the champ and not even ranked in the top 10 in my own home town."
This really tickled Bobick. Bowlus has a population of 270, a sizable percentage of them large, muscular male Bobicks who have spent a good deal of their lives belting each other in the mouth. "Now don't take that wrong," said Bobick. "We all love each other. I wouldn't trade any one of my brothers for all the money in the world. But we are, well, brothers, and I've seen some battles on the second floor when I thought the whole house was going to come down. Not when Ma is around, of course. When she's there, it takes her about five seconds to send us scattering. She may be little, but she swings a mean broom. Besides, if we don't mind her, she'll tell Dad, and there ain't none of us who are going to mess with him."
Dad is Mathew Bobick, a 6-foot, 210-pound plasterer of Polish-German extraction who learned early that you can't raise 11 sons without an occasional show of force—say, four or five times a day. The eldest son is Leroy, a 22-year-old ex-marine, 6'2", 255 pounds, and a promising heavyweight himself until an accident cut short his career. "He was big, but he was fast, with superfast hands," said Duane, at 20 the second oldest and an inch taller and 50 pounds lighter than Leroy. Then comes Rodney, 19, 6'3", 236 and still growing. "Those are the two I can't lick," said Duane. "And Dad, of course." From there the brothers range down to Bobby, who is only 4 and still working on his left hook.
"We have sort of a game we play," Duane said. "One brother is named the dummy, like the king of the hill, and all the other brothers jump on him. We've had our battles. But you learn to defend yourself. You've got to. I can remember days at home when I didn't know if I was conscious or unconscious. I'd wake up the next morning hurting all over and wondering what the heck happened. I guess when you grow up like that, facing some of those guys in the Pan-American Games doesn't seem all that tough."
August 22, 1971
Not counting combat at home, Bobick came to Cali, Colombia with 54 wins in 63 fights and 32 knockouts. He had won his last 20 and was AAU, Navy, Interservice and World Military Games heavyweight champion. They told him that Wisley Zuleta, the thickset Colombian he'd meet in his first fight, wasn't much, an easy three rounds. "To heck with that," said Bobick. "I knew when I climbed in that ring that there was no way I'd let that guy go all the way. Not with that danged crowd rooting for him."
Bobick planned to start slowly, but Zuleta came out throwing wild, wide bombs. Bobick went inside, both arms pumping, and with more than a minute left in the first round, Zuleta's corner tossed in the towel. "I was really beating the heck out of him," said Bobick with gusto.
The victory moved him to the semifinals, where his opponent was Teofilo Stevenson, a 6'5" Cuban with tremendous reach and a dazzling jab. "I've got to pressure him every second, never let him rest," said Bobick. "If I don't slow him down, I'm in trouble. And that crowd, man, it's pro-Cuban all the way. The way some of the decisions have been going against us, I'm beginning to think those officials are listening to the crowd more than they are watching the fights."
For the first round the Cuban was what Bobick expected, what the crowd wanted. His left hand was a snake, and Bobick had trouble getting inside. It didn't help when he fired a right that landed on the Cuban's collarbone. Bobick felt something go between the last two knuckles. "I figured something broke," he said, "but, heck, pain is irrelevant when I'm in there. I don't feel anything and I don't hear anything. I come to fight no matter what. If I knew I could beat a guy easily by just throwing one jab each round I wouldn't do it. I'd still blaze in with both hands working."
Which is what he did against the Cuban, broken hand or not. By the second round Stevenson began to slow, and he was telegraphing the jab. "He was tightening his fist just a little before he threw it," said Bobick. In the third round he twice came close to knocking the Cuban out. Each time, the referee ordered Bobick to move back. "He said I was butting, but I wasn't. I had my head down and I was working real good. He was ready to go. I don't blame the ref, it's hard to tell, and it came out all right, although I held my breath until they announced the decision."
The decision was 5-0, Bobick. The final, against Joaquin Rocha, a big, awkward Mexican who won the bronze medal in the 1968 Olympics, was a breeze. They stopped it in the third round with Rocha well-bloodied and out on his feet. "The hard part about that fight," Bobick said, "was trying to remember not to hit him with the right hand. Every time I did, I'd think, 'Darn it, Duane, cut that out. That hurts.' "
After the fight, the gallant Rocha said, "Bobick is very strong with a powerful punch. Soon he may be as good as George Foreman."
"That was nice of him," said Bobick. "I think I'd give Foreman a heck of a fight for three rounds."
Bobick's victory over Stevenson was a momentary blow to the Cubans, who came in with their most powerful team in Pan-Am history. In the five past games the Cubans had won a total of 24 gold medals and 118 overall. In the same period of time, the U.S. had won 482 golds and 942 medals in all. But while we were growing a bit blasé about it all, Fidel Castro was not. He transformed his island into one gigantic gymnasium, shipped his coaches to Russia for schooling and imported Russian and Polish coaches to teach the finer points of such recondite arts as fencing, weight lifting and the triple jump.
"Take weight lifting alone," said Oscar State, an Englishman who is an authority in that sport. "Today Cuba has 12,000 registered lifters. The U.S. has only 4,000, which is ridiculous. At least two Cuban weight-lifting coaches spent a year in Moscow learning Russian techniques. The Cubans have done the same thing in almost every sport. The results are obvious."
Painfully obvious. While some of our better athletes were home competing in summer leagues or working on their tans, the Cubans were in Cali whipping us in every team sport save water polo, women's basketball and field hockey, in which they didn't enter a team. The Cubans went home with 30 gold medals and 105 in toto, which is a pretty good haul for an island of only 8½ million people.
"Maybe someday the American public will wake up," said Ron Fraser, the manager of the U.S. baseball team, which lost to Cuba and the Dominican Republic and wound up with a silver medal. "Baseball and basketball aren't ours anymore, they're international. Some of those Cuban baseball players have been together for six or seven years. It's an experienced Double A or Triple A team. And we come down here with 19-year-old college freshmen and sophomores who have been playing together only nine weeks, and when we lose, people say, 'Hey, what happened?' What happened is that we left a lot of our outstanding athletes back in the U.S., either because they couldn't afford to come or because they didn't want to."
Four years ago the U.S. won 120 gold medals, 225 overall. This time the totals were 105 and 218. "What can you expect?" said John Crosby, the 5'5", 125-pound gymnast who won two golds, five silvers and a bronze medal. "Sports used to be good for building the image of a country. But now I'm afraid it might be tearing ours down. It's just leading to more resentment toward us because we win so much. Look at boxing. Any time a U.S. fighter got beat, the people up in the stands had a ball. Colombia is supposed to be a pro-U.S. country, but you sure hear a lot of 'Cu-ba, Cuba.' We got jobbed in all the subjective sports, the ones where you depend upon arbitrary judges. In gymnastics you have a guy wavering between an 8.5 and a 9, and he sees it's the U.S., and he gives the 8.5. One Cuban fell coming off the horizontal bar, and the judges gave him a 9.1 out of 10. It was really unbelievable."
In Crosby's case the judging spurred him to greater efforts. "My motivation changed after the first day," he said. "After being jerked around by the judges, I just wanted to go out and maul those Cubans. It wasn't just competition anymore. It got pretty nasty. We were cursing and screaming at the judges. I came down just to perform well. But when I saw what was happening, well, first I got depressed, then I got vengeful. It ripped my values away from me. One thing, though. We had a tendency to blame the Cubans for what happened. But then we realized it was the judges, not them. After the first day we invited the Cubans to come over to our table to eat with us. They sort of shuffled over. They knew what was happening and were embarrassed. That helped smooth things over."
Ken Patera, the 304-pound super-heavyweight weight lifter from Minneapolis, had no such problems. "All I have to do," he said, "is have them slap a lot of pounds on each end of that bar and then I put it over my head. If nobody else comes close, I win. Them Cubans can have all the Russian coaches there are, but they still have to lift the weights themselves."
With the U.S. leading Cuba by only five points in the unofficial weight lifting team standings, it came down to the superheavies, Patera and 268-pound Fernando Bernal of Cuba. In the press, Bernal fouled, fouled again and finally got 374 pounds over his head. "He's knee kicking," said Oscar State. "That's one of the Russian tricks. They have a lot of them."
Patera stayed backstage, ignoring Bernal's efforts. When the other supers were done, the 27-year-old ex-shotputter from Brigham Young casually strolled on stage, his 56-inch chest clad in a plain white T shirt. When they had handed him his official team shirt, it was a size 42. "Let's start with 435 pounds," he said. It went up more like 135. He exited smiling. On his second try he upped his total to 473, laughed and passed on his third try.
Shaking his head, Bernal came out to snatch 319 pounds. Patera opened with 335½, then upped it to 374, another gold medal. Sighing, Bernal cleaned and jerked 418 pounds and stepped back to watch Patera open with 462.
"Up it to 501½," said Patera. The crowd gasped when the weight was announced. Only Russia's Vasily Alexeyev had ever gone over 500 in official competition. For the briefest instant it looked as though Patera was going to make it. He cleaned it all right, but when he jerked the great weight over his head, it toppled backward. On his second attempt he again got it aloft but again couldn't hold it.
"On that last one," he said, "I knew as soon as I jerked it I was too tired. But since I had it up on my chest, I figured I might as well try. But I had it too high. The bar was sitting on my jugular and cutting off my wind. I started to black out. There just wasn't enough oxygen in my body. But I know now it's only a matter of time before I get Alexeyev. Last year the only difference between me and him was that I couldn't afford his drug bill. Now I can. When I hit Munich next year I'll weigh in at about 340, maybe 350. Then we'll see which is better, his steroids or mine."
After Patera had picked up his four gold medals, one for each event and one for his amazing total of 1,309 pounds, the U.S. coaches rushed over to congratulate him. He shooed them away. "Coaches are like Russians, a bunch of meatheads," he said mildly. "The coaches here kept bugging me. 'Make sure you total. Make sure you total.' I told them to get off my back. They think too small. They're always thinking of totals that might win a state meet. I told them I'm not down here to beat some Cuban who lifts a 1,100 total. I have to think about the Russians, and that means around 1,430. That's why I never liked coaches. There's a definite communication gap between me and them. And I'm too hotheaded if someone else on a team makes a mistake and it costs me. I love the individuality of weight lifting."
Which is exactly the same reason Duane Bobick is a heavyweight boxer instead of a pitcher-outfielder or a forward or a tight end. In high school he was all-conference in all three sports, but he never felt at ease while relying on the abilities of others.
"What I like about boxing is that it's all up to you," he said. "If you win, you do it all right. But if you lose, it's nobody's fault but your own. In team sports—well, I don't like having someone's faults passed on down to me. And I'm not all that happy about sharing any glory. Everybody in this world has his own boat to row, and nobody should get by on the ability of somebody else."
With that he packed his gear and headed for Norfolk, Va., where he is a quartermaster in the Navy. Next month he'll be a member of the U.S. team that fights a Rumanian team at Lake Geneva, Wis. In October he'll defend his world military title in Rotterdam. After that it's the Olympic trials.
"And in between," he said, "I'll have to go home and fight Leroy and Rodney and any other brother that wants to take a shot at me."