Zou, Zhang cap golden Olympic boxing effort

Aug. 24, 2008, 6:49 a.m. (ET)

BEIJING (AP) Zou Shiming and Zhang Xiaoping gave the host country two boxing gold medals on the final day of the Beijing Olympics on Sunday.

Zou wept openly atop the medal podium after fulfilling his vow to become China's champion. The final step was easier than he imagined: Mongolia's Serdamba Purevdorj couldn't keep fighting early in the second round of their light flyweight bout because of a shoulder injury.

Although Zou won without many style points in Beijing, he had his long-sought gold medal - China's 50th of the Beijing Games, no less. The adoring Workers' Gymnasium crowd gave one last grateful roar for its trailblazer, who won China's first bronze medal four years ago in a sport banned by the government from 1959 to 1986.

"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."

While Zou sweated his way through a difficult tournament, Zhang nimbly slipped past several better-pedigreed opponents to capture the light heavyweight gold. 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 ended China's hopes for a third gold medal by flattening Zhang Zhilei in the final bout, the Chinese haul of four total medals was a more-than-reasonable reward for a nation that dedicated itself to a strong home showing in boxing.

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 Sunday.

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 appropriately was the first man in the ring for the final day of fights in Beijing. To keep his pressure to a minimum, he spent the last two weeks at home instead of living in the athletes' village, eating 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.

Zou had a 1-0 lead after a tentative first round against Purevdorj, but the Mongolian coach literally threw in the towel just 19 seconds into the second when his fighter's right arm was hanging limply at his side.

Before climbing on the medal podium, Zou choked up when the announcer said "China." He cried after accepting his medal, and tears prevented him from singing every word of the national anthem.

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.

Cammarelle left no doubt in the tournament's final bout, plugging Zhang Zhilei with a series of combinations for his second Olympic medal.

Cuba rolled into the medal bouts with eight fighters on its young team qualifying for hardware, but went 4-4 in the semifinals before four losses on the weekend.

Cuban welterweight Carlos Banteaux was so tough earlier in the Olympics while charging forward, but he inexplicably allowed Sarsekbayev to be the aggressor. Banteaux stalked his opponent but threw poor punches, while the Kazakh kept knocking him backward after failing to score in the first round.