Hiouad Larbi, a boxing judge from Morocco, found himself surrounded by a swarm of angry journalists. Only moments earlier on Sunday, Larbi and two fellow judges had stolen a gold medal from Roy Jones, the American light middleweight who had soundly whipped South Korea's Park Si-Hun in their final bout. "How dare you?" demanded one of the writers. "How could you have voted for the Korean? Are you mad?"
Larbi stared down at the floor in obvious embarrassment. "It was a terrible thing," the Morrocan said softly. "The American won easily; so easily, in fact, that I was positive my four fellow judges would score the fight for the American by a wide margin. So I voted for the Korean to make the score only 4-1 for the American and not embarrass the host country."
When Park was declared the winner 3-2, Ken Adams, the U.S. head coach, all but accused Koreans of trying to bribe the judges. "The last two days I've seen a Korean in the judges' area with gold and an open wallet," said Adams. "One time he was showing a judge some gold he had wrapped in a rag. Another time he was offering an open wallet to a different judge. Nobody took anything. They both shook their heads; but they knew I was looking right at them."
Adams said he couldn't prove his charge and refused to name the judges involved, although he did say that one of them had worked the Jones bout. The Koreans were understandably enraged by Adams's charge and suggested that the gold Adams saw was only the flash of the gold-plated Olympic key chains they had given out as gifts.
October 9, 1988
For the U.S. what should have been a bright moment turned bitter. Twelve young American fighters had come to Seoul, quite alone in believing in themselves, and at the end of the 16 days of competition they stood atop the world of amateur boxing with three gold medals, three silvers and two bronzes.
They had been labeled Team Turmoil, but nothing fazed them. They had lost their best gold medal hope, featherweight Kelcie Banks, one minute and 50 seconds into his first bout; another heralded competitor, Anthony Hembrick, was out before ever throwing a punch after failing to arrive in time for his initial bout. A third medal hope, hard-hitting Todd Foster, was forced to fight—and beat—the same man twice in one night after officials ruled that his Korean opponent Chun Jin-Chung was entitled to a rematch after a disputed knockout. Chun, it seems, had dropped his hands when the horn sounded to end a round in the adjacent ring, and Foster decked him. So later that night, Foster knocked the Korean out again in the do-over. But in his next bout two days later, Todd lost to Grahame Cheney of Australia, as much from exhaustion as from anything Cheney had to offer.
Going into the finals, the U.S. boxing team had won 32 of its 38 bouts. Six men would be fighting for gold medals. "We know we're the best team in the world," Jones had said after his semifinal victory over Richard Woodhall of Great Britain. "We're in great condition, although other teams are in great condition too. But we have stronger minds; we are mentally tougher. We are just blowing people out."
In the finals it all began to come apart. The U.S. boxers could beat anyone inside the ring; they were no match for the officials outside. The most charitable explanation for the terrible scoring was incompetence; the darkest theory was Adams's. Or it could have been anti-American political mischief. Whatever, the finals were so tainted that, at the conclusion of the Games, IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch suggested that boxing might be discontinued as an Olympic sport (he also cited two upcoming long-term studies on the health of amateur boxers).
Curiously, the same judges began to show up whenever an American fought. In the earlier rounds, judges were picked by pulling Ping-Pong balls from a plastic box; in the final rounds the officials—the referee and five judges—were appointed at the whim of Emil Jetchev of Bulgaria, who was in charge of judges and referees. Jetchev said he selected those who had been doing the best job during the preliminary rounds.
For the dozen final bouts 27 officials were used, though many more were on hand. Jetchev did not attempt to disguise his underhandedness; for the six gold medal bouts involving Americans, seven of his designated jurists worked 17 of the 30 judging positions, and four worked as referees. In contrast, the same seven men were called on to serve as judges in the six non-American bouts 13 times, but not one refereed.
Jetchev's big stopper was Bob D. Kasule of Uganda, who worked five American fights. Then there was Alberto Duran of Uruguay, who was called upon four times; Larbi of Morocco, three times as a judge, once as a referee; and Sompong Sukar of Thailand, twice as a judge, once as a referee. Held in Jetchev's bullpen were Mohamed Ghaznavi of Pakistan, one and one, Kishen M. Narsi of India, one and one, and Stoino Parlapanov of Bulgaria, one and zero.
On Saturday, the first day of the final round of bouts, Michael Carbajal, the U.S. light flyweight, faced Bulgaria's Ivailo Hristov—and Ghaznavi, Sukar, Kasule and Duran, with Narsi as the referee. Carbajal clearly won the fight but lost the decision 5-0.
In amateur boxing, points are scored by the number of blows landed, not by the damage they inflict. One boxer might get knocked down, but if he gets up and lands three light taps on his opponent, he is ahead. Roughly, three legal punches score one point. In the second round, Compubox's punch stats showed that Carbajal landed 25 punches to Hristov's 11, clearly a two-point round. Ghaznavi gave the round to Hristov; the other four gave it to Carbajal by just one point. On all five cards, Carbajal lost the fight 59-58. Obviously, for the American's final fight Ghaznavi, Sukar, Kasule and Duran devised a new method of scoring punches.
Following Carbajal into the ring, bantamweight Kennedy McKinney dared the judges to steal his gold medal: He beat the tar out of Alexander Hristov, another Bulgarian who was not related to Ivailo. The officials (Larbi, Sukar, Duran, with Ghaznavi as the referee) were left with no recourse but to vote for McKinney, who won a unanimous 5-0 decision. Next up was heavyweight Ray Mercer, who took even less of a chance; he stopped Korea's Baik Hyun-Man at 2:16 of the first round.
Then came Sunday, and Jones was faced with the lineup of Kasule, Larbi and Duran. Clearly, here Adams erred. Until this bout the little Army master sergeant had guided his squad superbly. But with Jones he failed; before the first bell he should have told his fighter, "You are way behind on points. You have to knock him out to win."
In the first round, Jones outpunched Park 20-3. All five judges gave him the round 20-19. Like fighters, judges sometimes warm slowly. In the second round, Jones landed 30 punches to just 15 for Park and tagged the Korean for one standing eight count. Sandor Pajar of Hungary gave Jones the round 20-18, while Zaut Gvadjava of the U.S.S.R. scored it for Jones 20-19. Kasule called the round even. Duran and Larbi ruled that Jones had lost the round 20-19.
Then Jones really opened up. He battered the dazed Korean 36-14. It was one serious whipping. "I knew I was so far ahead," Jones said later, "I knew they couldn't steal it." Gvadjava was so impressed he scored the round 20-18 for Jones. Pajar had it 20-19. But enter the three thieves: They all had Park winning the round 20-19. The gentlemen should have worked in masks.
From his corner Adams kept an eye on the jury table. What he saw made him sick: Paul Konnor, a Milwaukee attorney who is on the International Amateur Boxing Federation (AIBA) executive committee, was arguing with other officials at the table. At the same time a Korean official leaned over, looked at the scoring and leaped straight into the air. Rushing across the ring, Adams shouted down at Anwar Chowdhry of Pakistan, the AIBA president: "I don't believe this! You wouldn't dare give the decision to the Korean!"
Chowdhry never looked up. He knew what was coming: Park the winner by a margin of 3-2. The Hungarian and Soviet judges had scored it for Jones 60-56. Kasule called it a draw 59-59, but as required by amateur rules, was forced to declare for one of the fighters. He gave the edge to the battered Korean for "aggressiveness," though Park had spent most of the fight in retreat. Duran and Larbi scored it for Park outright 59-58.
A few moments later Jones and Park met again in a corridor outside of the main arena. They were waiting to march in for the medals ceremony. Through an interpreter, the Korean said to the American, who had briefly considered not going to the ceremony: "I am sorry. I lost the fight. I feel very bad." After receiving his gold medal, Park held the medal away from his chest, nudged Jones who was standing to his right and shook his head.
"I don't blame him," said Jones. "He didn't score the fight. That's the worst I've ever been dealt in my life. They put the silver medal around my neck, and I took it right off. I won't put it around my neck ever again."
Light heavyweight Andrew Maynard came into the room where Jones was speaking. Maynard was wearing a gold medal; he had just defeated a Soviet opponent, Nourmagomed Chanavazov, 5-0. In the arena the last American, super heavyweight Riddick Bowe, was being stopped 43 seconds into the second round by Canada's Lennox Lewis. Duran, Kasule and Parlapanov were all in place, but obviously unneeded.
Someone asked Maynard how it felt to win a gold medal. "I can't tell you that," he said somberly. "I'm trying to imagine what Roy Jones is going through. We came a long way together. I'm glad I won, but I can't feel right."
Outside, as the arena cleared after the last bout, Chowdhry told Jim Fox, the U.S.A. Amateur Boxing Federation's executive director. "Everyone is blaming me. The Eastern Europe bloc voted as they should. We have proposed that they do not let those three officials ever judge another bout."
''Great," snapped Fox. "That's still not going to get Roy Jones's medal back, is it?"
Then the AIBA made a remarkable announcement: Roy Jones had been selected to receive the Val Barker Cup, which goes to the tournament's outstanding boxer. It was not unprecedented—two other non-gold medalists had won the award, in the 1936 and 1968 Games—but it was fitting.