Zou, Zhang cap China's golden boxing effort

Aug. 24, 2008, 11:46 a.m. (ET)

BEIJING (AP) The white towel fluttered in his opponent's corner. Zou Shiming had forced his final surrender.

Winning gold turned out to be easier than the 106-pound strongman ever imagined. After barely throwing an angry punch Sunday before his opponent quit, Zou was China's first Olympic boxing champion.

His warbling, tear-soaked rendition of the national anthem would have been a perfect coda to a remarkable games for China, which notched its 50th gold medal with the light flyweight's long-expected win. Zou saw his monastic dedication and self-inflicted pressure as a miniature echo of China's labors in staging an ideal games.

Both Zou and Beijing delivered a fitting finale with a nifty 50 - but then two hours after Zou ascended the podium, light heavyweight Zhang Xiaoping crashed the coronation by winning China's 51st and final gold medal.

China had one last gold for the road - to London and beyond for amateur boxing's big new player.

After Zou's well-chronicled four years of nervous anticipation, the two-time world champion got his easiest bout last. Mongolia's Serdamba Purevdorj couldn't keep fighting early in the second round because of a lingering shoulder injury, leading his corner to literally throw in the towel.

"The (final fight) makes it look like I easily won the gold medal, but there was much work and preparation that went into this," Zou said. "It's regrettable that I couldn't be more entertaining to my fans in the gold medal bout, but most important is to get the gold medal, which I did."

Although Zou won without many style points in Beijing, the adoring Workers' Gymnasium crowd gave one last grateful roar for its tiny trailblazer. Four years ago, Zou won China's first bronze medal in a sport banned by its government from 1959 to 1986 for its decadent Western flavor.

While Zou sweated his way through a difficult tournament, Zhang nimbly slipped past several better-pedigreed opponents. After knocking off two medal favorites in the early rounds, he beat Kenny Egan of Ireland 11-7 in the final, leaving another opponent claiming favoritism toward the Chinese fighters in Beijing.

"I think the (judges) got it right," Zhang said. "I believe even if this fight was in Ireland, the result would be the same."

Although Italian super heavyweight Roberto Cammarelle crushed China's hopes for a third gold medal by flattening Zhang Zhilei in the final bout, the Chinese haul of four total medals was just fine with the hosts.

Russia matched China's double-gold performance with a victory by lightweight Alexey Tishchenko, his second Olympic gold after winning at featherweight in Athens. Mongolian bantamweight Badar-Uugan Enkhbat and Kazakh welterweight Bakhyt Sarsekbayev both beat Cuban boxers to earn their first Olympic titles.

Cuba led the Olympic field with eight total medals - but no golds for the first time in a games it didn't boycott since 1968. The Val Barker Trophy for the Olympics' most outstanding and stylistic boxer went to Vasyl Lomachenko of Ukraine, who won the featherweight title Saturday.

Zou was the first man in the ring for the final day of fights in Beijing. He spent the last two weeks at home instead of living in the athletes' village, eating McDonald's hamburgers and pizza in a hilariously misguided attempt to keep down his weight by avoiding the Chinese food he finds too greasy.

"Even last night, when I was sleeping, I thought about what I should do if I fell behind, and what I should do if I took the lead," Zou said.

Right before climbing on the medal podium, Zou choked up when the announcer said "China." He then held the gold aloft to all four sides of the ring, soaking in cheers.

Zou has become one of China's most recognizable athletes with his world titles, and his star might rise even further if he attempts to become China's first successful pro boxer since the sport's ban was lifted.

"What I want to do most is share the joy of the victory with my coach (Zhang Chuanliang)," Zou said. "In the last four years, he has done a lot for me. I really appreciate that, and now he's getting old."

In the final questionable result of a tournament full of judging criticism, hundreds of singing, green-and-orange-clad fans couldn't make the judges count any of Egan's sharp punches against Zhang. Egan dropped to his knees and elbows in visible frustration after the bout, and he kissed Zhang's gold medal on the podium.

Cammarelle left nothing to the judges in the tournament's final bout, plugging Zhang Zhilei with a series of combinations for his second Olympic medal.

Though Enkhbat isn't a flashy fighter, his run to the gold medal - just Mongolia's second in any sport - was among the tournament's most impressive, with five victories by a combined 70-15.

While Cuba struggled late, Russia's problems began well before the final weekend with a shocking series of upsets. They still added Tishchenko's championship to heavyweight Rakhim Chakhkiev's title on Saturday.

Tishchenko is just the fourth boxer in Olympic history to win gold in two weight classes.

"The responsibility was really getting to me," Tishchenko said. "No team had got more than two gold medals in boxing, and my win brought Russia's second gold. Now we can say that the total performance of the team was successful."