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WBC fills sports void in Chicago
A trip to the UIC Pavilion was like an advanced world geography class.
Forget where Azerbaijan is located on the globe? Ever hear of Burkina Faso or Seychelles? Have you met your Mongolian neighbors in Chicago?
Chances are a few seats away at the World Boxing Championships, you would have found your answers.
The event was composed of 557 athletes from 112 countries, from Albania to Zambia. From bout to bout, the home crowd changed from American to Chinese to Kzaakh to Jamaican.
Given the short time span to plan the event -- five months instead of the typical two years -- organizers were ecstatic over the 12-day attendance of 41,445. At Saturday's final, 5,173 fans showed up.
A nice showing, but when Italian heavyweight gold medalist Clemente Russo wept joyfully and when Italian super-heavyweight Roberto Cammarelle belted out Italy's national anthem, wouldn't it have been special if a large crowd from the Italian-American Sports Hall of Fame festivities had been there to cry and sing along?
Why wasn't every seat filled to watch American flyweight Rau'shee Warren get two teeth knocked out yet become the first U.S. gold medalist in eight years?
With the Bulls 0-3, the Bears imploding every Sunday and baseball over for everyone but A-Rod's financial managers, wouldn't a little boxing have filled the sports void? At least you could have brushed up on your geography.
2016?By all accounts, the event did nothing to dissuade the 2016 Olympic committee from selecting Chicago as the host.
The city and organizers provided punctually timed events, smooth transportation, a security-laden arena, a diverse crowd and strong competition.
Some big shots had only smiles after the championship.
"This, I would say, was the best ever," said Ching-Kuo Wu of Taiwan, who is the head of the International Amateur Boxing Association and an International Olympic Committee member.
Best thing for boxingWarren's now gap-toothed smile, thanks to the head butt of Thailand's Somjit Jongjohor, summed up the U.S. boxing experience. After taking some serious knocks and ugly beatings, American boxing seemed to stage a resurgence at the championships.
Five U.S. team members reached the quarterfinals and secured Olympic berths in Beijing.
The 20-year-old with a Rocky-like attitude was refreshing as he battled through shoulder pain, bloody noses and knocked-out incisors, all while promising to hand his medal over to his mom.
Note to U.S. Olympic marketers: Put this kid on a poster.
Worst thing for boxingNobody would want to pay money to watch the Chinese boxers dance around the ring. Zou Shiming is a talented fighter, no doubt. But the title fight against Philippines Harry Tanamor was as exciting as watching Xbox's Fight Night with no one at the controls.
Rain on the paradeSix Russian fighters advanced to the finals. Three Italians and two U.S. boxers fought for gold as well.
But the question kept coming up. What if the Cubans had been here?
An array of theories, none confirmed, have been thrown about as to why the Cuban fighters were not at the championships. Some say because they feared defection. Others said because they are retooling and did not want to show their cards too soon.
Either way, it's likely the finals would have shaped up a little differently if the talented team had attended.
"We have to wait, of course, for the Cubans to see how the different forces will be in balance," IOC President Jacques Rogge said. "We saw the traditional strength of Europe, very good fighters from the United States, Italy was a good surprise. But wait for Cuba because that might change a lot of things for next year."
Best at working the crowdEngland's Frankie Gavin knows how to get to the heart of Chicagoans. After defeating Italy's Domenico Valentino in the lightweight championship bout, he waved a Bears flag.
Best quote"I am a good boxer and I am good-looking," said Russo, who was sporting four stitches above his right eye.
Sucker-punchedThe news that two Ugandans and an Armenian had left their teams at the championships and could not be located overshadowed the preliminary rounds.
The toughest part was watching a clearly demoralized Ugandan fighter Edwards Akora compete. He remained in Chicago only to lose in a light-welterweight match to France's Alexis Vastine.
"They just left us," Akora said. "They didn't give us indication."
Biggest standAIBA showed it is not messing around when it comes to making amateur boxing a clean sport. The organization slapped lifetime bans on three Romanian boxers who were caught shoplifting.
Up-and-comerJavier Molina, a 17-year-old on the U.S. team, has had a documentary crew following him and his twin brother as they pursue boxing careers. Check out a trailer of "In the Blood" at www.juniorgloves.com