“Pops, I didn’t do it. I didn’t win,” Richard Torrez Sr. said his son told him.
For days, Richard Jr. had been talking about this call, practicing the words he would say to his father, coach and best friend the moment he had won Olympic gold. “Pops, I did it!” he was going to shout. Instead, his words were accompanied by tears.
This was going to be the biggest day for U.S. men’s Olympic boxing in at least 17 years, since Andre Ward won the last American male gold, with Torrez and lightweight Keyshawn Davis in essentially revenge fights with gold medals at stake.
Then came two losses in two close fights and two silver medals that still gave the U.S. team three silvers and a bronze to make Tokyo its best boxing Olympics this century. Davis had accepted his silver with a shrug and an acknowledgment that such losses happen in Olympic boxing, especially to a fighter such as Cuba’s Andy Cruz, who is essentially a professional amateur and not a rising pro such as Davis who could use the Olympics as a kind of promotion for his career.
“I’m proud because I put my professional career on hold, put my money on hold to accomplish my dream and I did that,” Davis said. “A lot of people wouldn’t take that risk or that opportunity to put what they have on hold when everything was going their way.”
But Torrez had dreamed hard of Olympic gold, imagining his face on the mural in downtown Tulare, where the city’s two great Olympic champions, Bob Mathias and Sim Iness, are captured under the words: “Olympic Gold.” He was going to avenge his father’s knockout loss in the 1984 U.S. Olympic trials. He was going to make Tulare proud.
It didn’t matter that Richard Jr. had come back into a ring to face a man six inches taller who had put him in a stretcher in their last fight. He didn’t care that Davis, watching his fight from a hallway beneath the stands, said, “It says a lot about Richard and his heart and his passion,” that he was willing to challenge Jalolov again. All he could feel was a defeat.
“I felt like I had the world in my hands and it slipped and I watched it fall and break and I’m trying to pick up the pieces,” Richard Jr. said well after the fight, his eyes still red, a cut temporarily healed on the side of his face glistening in the light.
He and his father, along with the U.S. Coach Billy Walsh, had come up with a plan for this fight. The plan was for Richard Jr. to move his head and duck in and out, using his speed to throw quick, powerful punches and then move away from Jalolov’s fists. It worked well in the first, a round he won with a shot delivered to Jalolov’s head that seemed to slow the larger man.
“That’s it!” Richard Sr. said he yelled at the television when Richard Jr.’s glove connected with Jalolov’s face. “Get him! Get him!”
But Richard Jr. got away from the plan in the second round and then the third. The fight became more Jalolov’s and less his. It’s easy for well-designed plans to fall apart when under attack from Jalolov’s blows. Jalolov had stormed through all of his fights here. Until Sunday, his wins were easy. He is too strong and too powerful for any other Olympic foe.
Davis could stand in the hallway and say things such as, “Just because I got the silver medal, it doesn’t make me a silver medalist,” and, “The silver medal doesn’t define me.” Richard Jr., on the other hand, kept replaying Sunday’s fight, kept seeing the missed chances, even as most observers were impressed by his ability to absorb Jalolov’s mighty swings.
“I’ve been on the medal podium before, and it’s one of the best and worst feelings to ever feel,” Richard Jr. said. “To not have that flag raised, to not have that anthem played, to sit there and one guy crying tears of joy and the other sadness, being in that position is really tough.”
At one point he looked at the silver around his neck and held it for a moment, feeling its weight.
“I’m going to look at this with pride; I am a medalist,” he said. “But every time I look at this I’m going to feel sorrow, too. I’m going to feel great and I’m going to feel horrible at the same time.”
He brushed away a tear. He apologized for not winning a gold most couldn’t have expected him to take. Then he walked down the hallway, away from the afternoon he wanted to forget.
From Tulare, Calif., where it was past midnight, Richard Sr.’s voice came soothing and warm over the phone. Yes, his son had gotten away from the plan, but he had still fought with so much fire, so much desire. So when the call came in the moments after Sunday’s fight and Richard Jr. had blurted the words, “Pops, I didn’t do it,” Richard Sr. didn’t talk about the plan or the opportunity missed.
Rather, he remembered exactly what he said to his broken son.
“Richard, we are proud of you,” he said. “You won a silver medal, man. You gave it all you got.
“You have nothing to be ashamed of.”
And Richard Sr. said this to his son, knowing it would be a long time before he would understand.