Superb Lomachenko leads boxers into Olympic finals

Aug. 22, 2008, 6:24 a.m. (ET)

BEIJING (AP) Vasyl Lomachenko's eye-popping brilliance certainly caught Jacques Rogge's attention. So did Alexis Vastine's anguished wails after losing his biggest Olympic boxing match on a harsh last-minute penalty.

The IOC president saw amateur boxing at its exciting best and tawdry worst from his front-row seat in the VIP section Friday at a tumultuous afternoon of semifinal fights.

And then things really got ugly. Rudi Obreja, a Romanian technical delegate from the International Boxing Association (AIBA), railed against the Olympic refereeing selection process, the sport's judging system and even the way Dr. Wu Ching-kuo was elected AIBA's president two years ago.

AIBA disciplinary chief Tom Virgets said the organization was looking into Obreja's list of allegations, but such cataclysms make up just another day at the office for Virgets, Wu and AIBA. They've been battered by criticism of the judging and refereeing in Beijing despite nearly two years of work to clean up a sport with generations of dirt on it.

"We have no reason to doubt the integrity of the judges," Virgets said. "But we have a process that we'll follow, because we take any notion of impropriety very seriously."

At least the best Olympic fighters leave nothing to the judges, the draws or politics.

Lomachenko, the Ukrainian featherweight and the Olympics' most entertaining fighter, overwhelmed another opponent to move one bout away from a gold medal. Cuba and Russia split two bouts in the long-standing rivalry between the sport's top two powers, with Cuban flyweight Andris Laffita and Russian heavyweight Rakhim Chakhkiev advancing.

Even some fighters were gracious in defeat. U.S. heavyweight Deontay Wilder congratulated Italy's Clemente Russo after winning the Americans' 100th medal in Beijing, but ensuring the U.S. boxing team's worst Olympic finish. Of the nine Americans on the team, only flyweight Rau'shee Warren showed up to cheer Wilder, with most of the others already back home.

"This isn't the way we wanted our team to go out," said Wilder, who lost 7-1. "I came here with eight guys, and I wanted to celebrate with eight guys."

But the afternoon's most memorable display came from Vastine, the French light welterweight who lost 12-10 to the Dominican Republic's Felix Diaz. Vastine's 9-6 lead had vanished into a 10-all tie when referee Rogelio Fortaleza of the Philippines hit Vastine with a two-point penalty for holding with just 19 seconds left.

Vastine screamed directly at Rogge's section when Fortaleza called the penalty, and he collapsed into waves of tears and wailing after the buzzer. He then stepped out of the ring and stretched out on his back on the floor before his equally infuriated coach led him away.

"We all saw what happened," Vastine said through more tears. "I won this bout, but it was stolen. It was unfair."

The French team said it would protest the result, but didn't do so within the allotted time after the bout.

"The penalty was good, and they should have called it earlier," Diaz said. "He was holding all day."

Diaz will face Manus Boonjumnong, Thailand's gloriously eccentric light welterweight. The Athens gold medalist frustrated Cuba's Roniel Iglesias in a fight that left both boxers complaining of foul play.

Boonjumnong, whose herky-jerky style is as hard to replicate as it is to counter, raised his arms in celebration after just two rounds. Midway through the third round, the Cuban bent his knees and then practically jumped for the ceiling during a third-round clinch, head-butting Boonjumnong with the top of his skull and earning a two-point penalty.

"The head butt was very bad," Boonjumnong said. "It is not fair play, not the sporting thing to do. I could have been hurt and it could have been the end of the fight. ... That is not the way I want to win my fights."

Lomachenko already has beaten his division's top two favorites and the Chinese featherweight. The smooth slugger brutalized Turkey's Yakup Kilic 10-1 - a score that could have been three times as bad if Lomachenko wished.

Lomachenko's final obstacle is France's Khedafi Djelkhir, who beat Azerbaijan's Shahin Imranov.

Laffita won his outstanding bout with Russia's Georgy Balakshin in dramatic fashion, scoring the decisive point in his 9-8 victory on a left hand with about 3 seconds left. Laffita and Balakshin traded impressive combinations throughout the last three rounds.

Chakhkiev won 10-5 over Osmai Acosta, who was unable to win Cuba's fifth consecutive gold medal at heavyweight. Acosta got a two-point penalty for holding in the fourth round, but was always slightly behind Chakhkiev, one of Russia's last two gold-medal hopes.

The middleweight final will feature Cuba's second-generation medal winner, Emilio Correa, against Britain's James Degale, who pounded Ireland's Darren Sutherland 10-3. Correa was nearly as impressive in an 8-5 win over Vijender Kumar, India's first boxing medalist.

"I said on my day, I am the best of anyone in the world," Degale said. "It's just silly things that stop me. Today, the tactics were there. Now, the weight is perfect, the body is perfect. If I'm right in the head ... I'm the man."