Boxing Is Absorbing A Few Hits

By Les Carpenter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, August 16, 2008

BEIJING, Aug. 15 -- In a hallway of the Beijing Workers' Gymnasium on Friday night, U.S. boxer Raynell Williams buried his head in a towel, leaned against a door and wondered just what it was he had done so wrong on an evening when he appeared to do everything right.

A few feet away, his coach, Dan Campbell, gnawed on a toothpick and glared.

"I just called back to the people in the tape room and everybody said it was [expletive]," Campbell said after Williams lost a second-round fight he looked to have decisively won against France's Khedafi Djelkhir. Williams "was landing three shots to one."

In the Olympic boxing competition, judging has become such a topic that the head of the boxing judges had to call a news conference on Friday to say he is pretty certain the men in his charge are not corrupt and that he doesn't believe they are incompetent. It was hard to sell to the U.S. contingent.

"We're talking about a lot of punches that didn't get counted," Campbell said. "I think we're talking about eight points" that Williams should have had. "That's crazy."

Then again, crazy seemed to be a theme on Friday. Five hours before the Williams fight, Terry Smith, the head delegate of the International Amateur Boxing Association, sat under a bank of television lights and tried to dispel growing complaints that the judging at this Olympics has deteriorated into farce. Particularly in the case of the host country China, which has almost no recent boxing history and yet whose fighters have managed to win 11 of 15 fights -- many under dubious circumstances.

If Smith meant to squelch the criticism, he hardly sounded convincing. "I can't definitively say the judges are favoring the Chinese," he said. "But it would take three [out of the five judges working each match] to favor China and I haven't seen anything to support that."

Smith's news conference occurred immediately after a fight in which Chinese lightweight Hu Qing rallied from a three-point deficit to beat Kazakhstan's Merey Akshalov, twice scoring points when he appeared to be in Akshalov's grasp and unable to throw a punch.

"Did you see the gift that guy from China just got," NBC boxing analyst Teddy Atlas said, spitting out the words as he walked down a hallway in the arena. "You never see anyone come back [in this Olympics] and this guy was down three or four points. I was sitting with my broadcast partner Bob Papa and I said, 'Let's see how they will find a way to get him to come back.' "

It was the kind of thing a lot of people have been saying all week.

On Monday, Luiz Barreto, the coach of Brazilian featherweight Robson Conceicao, wondered aloud how his fighter was head-butted three times by China's Li Yang and still lost.

"Li was hitting him with his elbows all the time but he was still scoring," Barreto said, "The only one receiving cautions was Robson. This is really wrong."

The next day, British bantamweight Joe Murray said after a loss to China's Gu Li: "I knew what it was going to be like. I've been watching the scoring the past few days and I knew it was bad. So I was expecting it."

At his news conference, Smith seemed uncomfortable as a small gathering of reporters, mostly from Europe, hammered away with examples of matches that they believed had been marred by scoring. Eventually he threw up his hands and said, "You will have to give me a bout number and I will look at it."

Three people jumped up clutching printouts of scores from different fights and tossed them onto the table before him.

Several journalists asked about French fighter Jaoid Chiguer, who said after losing on Thursday that he was thinking of quitting amateur boxing. "I hit the man twice as many times," Chiguer said. "How can I advance my level?"

Smith said perhaps Chiguer was just emotional after a loss and was looking for something to blame. He said his organization has searched the world to find the finest judges and believes he has found the best. He said he is pleased with the judging and thinks it has been quite fair.

"There's a big difference between cheating and stupidity," he said. He added that it would be too hard for judges to cheat under the current system the way three judges did in the 1988 Seoul Olympics, when American Roy Jones Jr. lost a fight he had clearly won to Korea's Park Si-Hun. That incident led to a reform and the requirement that five judges must hit buttons at once, with three needing to hit it at the same time to score a point.

Smith said he wondered if this system, which also demands that scores be posted during the fight, has created a new problem -- letting people see the scores appear as they are registered, thus leaving every decision up to immediate second-guessing.

He also said it takes a second for the score to register after the judges submit it, which might add to the confusion.

Nobody seemed to buy his answers.

"You need to watch the China fights," a Cuban reporter said, standing up and moving toward Smith.

Smith tried to sound reassuring.

"I think basically, overall, [the judges] find the winners," he said.

Later, beneath the gymnasium, Williams hardly seemed reassured. He looked ready to weep. "I felt like I was moving great," he said. "I thought I was moving great and getting my punches off but I guess they thought otherwise. That's what the judges saw so I guess I have to go with what they say."

Then, his Olympics done, he dropped his towel over his head and walked away on a day when little seemed to make sense.

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