Lomachenko ends magnificent games with boxing gold
BEIJING (AP) If Vasyl Lomachenko was a sprinter instead of a boxer, or if he swam laps rather than making his opponents' heads swim, his dazzling Olympic performance would have been the talk of Beijing and beyond.
The Ukrainian featherweight will have to settle for a gold medal and his fellow fighters' reverent respect after the 20-year-old dynamo's two-week run as the best thing in the Beijing ring.
Lomachenko stopped France's Khedafi Djelkhir in the first round to capture his first Olympic title Saturday night, while Russian heavyweight Rakhim Chakhkiev and British middleweight James Degale also won gold as the boxing tournament crowned its first five Olympic champions.
Thai flyweight Somjit Jongjohor also won his first gold at 33, and light welterweight Felix Diaz claimed the Dominican Republic's first boxing title with an upset of defending Olympic champion Manus Boonjumnong of Thailand at Workers' Gymnasium.
While Degale's sloppy, hold-filled victory over Cuba's Emilio Correa resembled a demolition derby, Lomachenko's win was just another demolition.
Starting with his upset win over Russian world champion Albert Selimov, the 20-year-old Lomachenko outpointed his five opponents by an astonishing 58-13, battering every foe with vicious hand speed and relentless aggression.
Lomachenko idolizes Muhammad Ali and the late Diego Corrales, but he'll have to work on matching his two heroes' braggadocio. In his first interview session of the games, he was too modest to hail his performance as the Olympics' best.
"I don't know about that," Lomachenko said. "There are many great and interesting boxers in the Olympics. Who of us is the best is for others to decide."
Lomachenko even stayed in his room in the athletes' village when his teammates went out to see Beijing, keeping his focus solely on his fights. He plans to get out a bit Sunday to celebrate, though - if it's OK with his coach and his father.
The referee mercifully stopped his title bout against the overmatched Djelkhir with nine seconds left in the opening round and Lomachenko already up 9-1. Djelkhir was glassy-eyed after enduring three standing-eight counts from repeated head blows courtesy of the Olympics' fastest hands.
"I made very precise hits," said Lomachenko, who wrapped the blue-and-yellow Ukrainian flag around his red fighting togs at the medal ceremony. "After that, I didn't let things slip."
On the other end of the style spectrum, Degale and Correa spent much of their sloppy bout in each other's arms, though Degale fought well enough early on to build a lead. After both were hit with two-point penalties for rules violations, both fighters abandoned all technique in the final rounds while Degale slogged to the 16-14 win.
Style points didn't matter to Degale, the surprising champion of a division headlined by Matvey Korobov, the Russian star who will turn pro after his second-round upset loss to Kazakhstan's Bakhtiyar Artayev. Degale beat Artayev in the quarterfinals and steamed to the gold medal.
the 22-year-old Degale was booed by the Cuban-sympathetic Chinese fans on the medal podium, but he didn't seem to hear it.
"It was a bit scrappy," Degale said. "He's strong. There were only bits in the fight where I fought my way. It was not pretty. I don't think it was the best fight we could have fought."
Correa fell short of following the success of his father, Emilio Sr., who won gold for Cuba in 1972.
"He gave me lots of advice before I came to Beijing, but I won a medal in the Olympics and that makes me very proud," Correa said. "I got desperate sometimes. I couldn't control my temper. Although I should have won, the judges should take some points from him, and even disqualify him."
Chakhkiev won the evening's final bout 4-2 in another ugly clash with Italy's Clemente Russo, who won last year's world championship with a narrow victory over Chakhkiev. Russo claimed the result was a robbery, but neither boxer landed many clean punches.
Chakhkiev is the first non-Cuban to win the Olympic heavyweight title since 1988 and just the third non-Cuban to win it since George Foreman's victory in 1968. Cuba's heavyweight, Osmai Acosta, lost to Chakhkiev in the semifinals.
Somjit is a former world champion fighting in his last Olympics thanks to the sport's age limit. He used that experience in a surprisingly easy win over Andris Laffita, the 30-year-old finally getting his first Olympic shot for the deep Cuban team.
Four years ago in Athens, Somjit lost an early round bout to Cuba's Yuriorkis Gamboa, who went on to win gold before defecting. After beating Gamboa's replacement, Somjit immediately held aloft a photograph of Thai king Bhumibol Adulyadej after leaving the ring.
"Several times I wanted to give up," said Somjit, who failed to qualify for the Sydney Games eight years ago. "In Greece, I managed to get there and I lost to a Cuban. I thought I was at my peak of my career then, the right age and right fitness, so that was really hard. But people in Thailand told me I still had fight left in me, so I went back to training."
Diaz was among the Dominican fighters who entered the ring with a Chinese flag on their backs, thrilling the home crowd. He rode that support all the way to his own nation's surprising first gold.
Manus is a nightmare for opposing coaches because of his unorthodox punches and unpredictable style, but Diaz turned a big first round into a comfortable victory.
"We spent all day (Thursday) watching videos of Boonjumnong, because we knew that there has to be an effective strategy to fight against him," Diaz said. "Nobody could find the right strategy, but I guess we did. I don't have a coach in my corner. I have a magician."