The Seoul Games / Day 3 : Hembrick Misses Match and Forfeits : Fight Schedule, Full Bus Are Blamed
The United States Olympic boxing hopes, already staggered by the Sunday night knockout of featherweight Kelcie Banks, were dealt an even more incredible blow Monday morning when middleweight Anthony Hembrick failed to show up on time for his first match.
A loss in the ring is understandable. A loss because of a misunderstanding is not as easy to explain. Here’s how it happened.
According to U.S. officials, Hembrick’s coaches thought his bout, which should have started at about 10:45 a.m., would occur later in the day. Then, according to reports, Hembrick couldn’t get on a full bus from the Athletes Village at 10 a.m. and had to wait until 10:30 for a ride, which takes about 15 minutes.
Hembrick, head coach Ken Adams and assistant coach Hank Johnson showed up shortly before 11 a.m. at the Chamshil Students’ Gymnasium. Hembrick was supposed to box South Korea’s Ha Jong Ho, who did show up on time. Ha was declared the bout’s winner on a walkover.
Complaints about the Olympic shuttle bus system in Seoul have been a continuing theme since athletes began arriving here. Posted bus schedules aren’t always reliable, and many buses have carried standing-room-only loads. Adams seemed to take at least part of the heat Monday, when he said: “I feel bad about it.”
After Monday’s morning session, Adams and USA Amateur Boxing Federation executive director Jim Fox filed a protest.
They went to a meeting with the protest committee of the International Amateur Boxing Assn. (AIBA). There, they contended that there were transportation problems and a confusing bout schedule caused by the use of two rings in the tournament’s preliminary rounds.
At 2 p.m., it was announced that the 5-man committee--with representatives from the Soviet Union, the United States, Tunisia, Turkey and Brazil--voted 2-2 on the U.S. protest, with the committee’s chief, Taied Houichi of Tunisia, temporarily abstaining.
“We’re told Mr. Houichi will not cast his vote until 6 p.m. tonight (Monday), after he talks to Anwar Chowdry,” said Leslie King, USA/ABF press officer.
Chowdry is the president of AIBA, amateur boxing’s world governing body.
For the Americans, it seemed like a replay of the 1972 Olympics. That’s when two U.S. sprinters, Rey Robinson and Eddie Hart, were scratched because their sprint coach, Stan Wright, didn’t get them to their 100-meter quarterfinal heats on time.
Other national delegations contacted Monday said that if their athletes are having difficulty in reaching their venues from the Athletes Village on the bus system, they have not reported it.
“I should know if there have been any problems,” said Stylianos Vassilopoulos, assistant chief of the Greek delegation. “There have been minor problems, maybe, but nothing that is considered a real problem.”
Mary Noreen, information director of the Canadian team, said, “If any of our athletes have complained, they haven’t made a big enough stink that we’ve heard about it.”
Canada’s head coach, Taylor Gordon, sympathized with the Americans’ plight Monday morning. A three-person Canadian party barely made it, he said.
“We got on the 9 o’clock bus this morning only by forcing our way through the door,” he said. “There wasn’t one inch of standing room left on that bus when we got on.”
Chuck Cale, a Los Angeles attorney who serves as assistant chef de mission of the U.S. delegation, wrote a letter Saturday to Walter Troeger, West German sports director of the International Olympic Committee, complaining about transportation for athletes from the village.
“At the conclusion of (Saturday) afternoon’s diving competition, there were no buses to return competitors to the village for them to attend to what was necessary before returning for this evening’s competition,” he wrote. “Our women (divers) had to leave the security net and go out on the street to hail a taxi cab. This is not acceptable, as I think you will agree.”
Fox explained that U.S. coaches, incorrectly read the schedule as showing the Hembrick-Ha fight as the 11th bout in Ring B Monday morning. The bout schedule shows the A and B rings on the left side of the schedule, but apparently no one on the U.S. team read the right-hand side of the schedule, which showed, in military time, both morning (10:00) and evening (19:00) sessions.
Whoever decided that Hembrick should be on the 10 a.m. bus was counting both Ring A and B bouts, not just Ring B bouts, where Hembrick was to box Ha.
Adams and U.S. team manager Wylie Farrier figured that Hembrick would box at about 12:45 p.m., and they were off by almost 2 hours.
Adams was distraught. Shortly after his late arrival, and just before he met with Fox, he talked briefly to a reporter.
“We just had no idea it was that close to the time (for the bout),” he said.
” I’ll take the blame. I feel for Hembrick. I wish there was something I could do.”
As the AIBA protest committee prepared to meet after Monday’s morning session to hear the U.S. appeal, few seemed to hold much hope that Hembrick, a Fort Bragg, N.C., paratrooper, would be placed back in the tournament.
As Jerry Shears, a Canadian boxing federation official, put it: “There’s been what, 50 or 60 bouts up to now, and no one has missed a bout yet. So if they’re basing their protest on the bout schedule . . . I’d say that’s a weak case.”
Fox, after meeting with Adams and Johnson, told about 50 reporters that the U.S. team was about to file a three-part protest.
“We will file an appeal based on a confusing bout schedule, transportation problems at the Athletes Village and the fact that for the first time in the history of the Olympics, two rings are being used, which has altered the schedule,” he said.
“The schedule was presented to us in a very confusing manner, and there were transportation problems departing the village. The athlete tried to get on the 10 a.m. bus, it was full, and wound up on the 10:30 a.m. bus.”
During the Fox interview session, a reporter asked: “Don’t you have the same bout sheet we have? We got here in time to see Hembrick fight, why didn’t he?”
Replied Fox: “You gentlemen are Rhodes scholars, what can I say?”
Another question: “Why didn’t he take a taxi?”
Fox: “Because he didn’t think he was late.”
Hembrick, by his absence, stole the spotlight from the Canadians Monday. Canada had just won a protest committee appeal from a Sunday night session bout, when an Ivory Coast referee muffed a bout between Canadian featherweight Jamie Pagendam and Mongolia’s Tserendorj Amarjargal.
The Mongolian was down twice and also took a standing-eight count, which should have ended the bout in favor of the Canadian.
But the referee allowed the bout to continue, and when Pagendam was knocked down later in the round, he stopped it and declared the Mongolian the winner.
Gordon, the Canadian coach, was explaining this to the media, as South Korea’s Ha climbed into the ring to meet Hembrick in the 64th bout of the Olympic boxing tournament.
He waited. And waited . . . and Hembrick’s corner remained empty.
“I have no idea where he is,” said King. “Obviously, he’s not here.”
When Hembrick failed to show, reporters and U.S. officials were running up and down the hallways of the gymnasium, looking for him.
AIBA rules require a boxer to be in the ring, ready to box, within three minutes after his opponent is introduced.
At ringside, Arthur Tunstall of Australia, AIBA’s chairman of the technical and rules committee, motioned for the referee, Vidalis Theodoros of Grenada, to wait a minute or two more.
Meanwhile, in the blue corner, Ha bobbed up and down, flicking out punches at an imaginary American.
Then came the thumbs-down gesture, and Theodoros raised Ha’s hand, indicating he was the walkover winner.
And as Ha’s hand went up, Hembrick finally appeared. He seemed in shock, clad in his warm-up suit, as Adams quickly engaged in an animated conversation with AIBA officials.
Thirty minutes later, reporters found the Americans in the boxers’ holding room, waiting for a bout that would never happen.
Johnson sat on a bench, at times holding his head in his hands. Hembrick sat motionless, expressionless in a chair, a white USA robe on, its hood over his head. Two small American flags stuck up out of his socks, on the outside of his calves, his trademark.
If it turned out to be the 22-year-old Hembrick’s final appearance here, it was a pathetic farewell. He sat in a hot, humid little room with a half-dozen other boxers who were actually going to box.
It was Hembrick, the U.S. Armed Forces champion, who coined the term “The Four Horsemen” at the Olympic trials, referring to the four Army boxers who appeared headed to Seoul. It turned out to be three, Hembrick, Ray Mercer and Andrew Maynard.
And it was Hembrick who only Sunday was informed that Jerome James of Sioux Falls, S.D., had won an arbitrator’s ruling and was sent to Seoul for a box-off that never happened.
He also was ordered by another arbitrator to face William Guthrie earlier this month in a box-off, but Guthrie couldn’t make wait. In August, he had a walkover win in a USA-Canada duel.
So after winning three straight walkovers, Hembrick finally lost one Monday.