THE SEOUL GAMES / DAY 9 : Commentary : South Koreans Must Learn to Box
The cause of Thursday morning’s melee at the Olympic Games boxing tournament is not hard to pinpoint.
The South Korean boxing federation is well-funded, well-organized and is staffed with the best coaches money can hire.
The problem is, South Korean boxers don’t know how to box.
Their frustration over a disappointing showing here in front of their countrymen set the stage for what happened Thursday morning.
When a New Zealand referee, Keith Walker, correctly called numerous cautions and warnings on South Korea’s Byun Jong Il, and then raised the hand of Bulgarian Alexander Hristov when it was announced that he had won a 4-1 decision, the dam broke.
Enraged South Koreans poured into the ring and attacked Walker. The melee has been since called “a disgrace” by the president of the International Amateur Boxing Assn. (AIBA).
A man phoned the Korea Herald newspaper Friday and said: “It took only a few hot-headed Koreans to wreck the image of Korea after so many Koreans had worked so hard for so long to host the Games.”
Before the trouble at the boxing arena, there had been a gentle Korean style to these Games, grace on display.
But it unraveled in about 10 minutes at Chamshil Students’ Gymnasium Thursday.
As a result, five South Koreans were prohibited from participating in the Olympics by AIBA, and Kim Chong Ha, the president of the Korean Olympic Committee, resigned in disgrace.
What the South Koreans have never learned, in spite of the best efforts of U.S. coaches they have hired to teach them, is that amateur boxing is a sport of technique, not power.
The classic Olympic boxer hits, and avoids getting hit. The classic Olympic boxer? Names such as Paul Gonzales and Mark Breland of the United States, and Candelario Duvergel of Cuba come to mind.
In Olympic boxing, the velocity of a punch is not a factor in scoring. That fact has somehow eluded South Korean coaches.
Watching a South Korean boxer is like watching a drunk picking a fight. It’s called leading with your face.
Several years ago, the South Koreans gave Bob Dorsey, a former U.S. Army coach, a 2-year contract to coach their international-level boxing teams. When his stint ended, Dorsey expressed frustration over the experience.
“They’re good kids, good athletes, and they get themselves in great shape,” he said.
“In fact, the only reason they do as well as they do is because they’re in really great shape.
“But they have a natural desire to wade in on an opponent and try to slug it out with them, and you just don’t win many close amateur bouts like that. That’s basic boxing instruction, Day-1 stuff.
“And yet for me, it was the toughest part of the whole thing--trying to get them to box--develop a good, quick jab, and how to slip punches.”
A Canadian boxing official, Jerry Shears, said that South Korean boxing officials have unreasonable expectations of their boxers.
“Basically, the Koreans are trying to develop a world-class boxing program without teaching their kids how to box properly,” he said.
“And on top of that, the coaches in the South Korean federation simply don’t understand the rule book. On Thursday, they were the only ones in the building who believed their boxer had somehow been cheated. I couldn’t find anyone else who thought the decision was unfair.”
It has been said that South Korean coaches teach power boxing in a sport where it is not rewarded by the scoring system because their boxes are shorter than many world-class opponents.
Why teach effective jab techniques when opponents have longer arms?
“That (theory is) absolutely not true,” said Angelo Dundee, the U.S. pro boxing trainer who is a radio commentator at the Olympic tournament.
“There is no reason why a short boxer can’t develop a good jab. It’s all in the feet, learning how to use your feet to get inside, and back up your man with a quick jab. Willie Pep (a 1940s featherweight champion) was a short fighter, but he had a superior jab.
“Willie Pastrano was a 5-foot 10-inch light-heavyweight who beat heavyweights with his left jab.”
Said Pat Nappi, who was the coach of the 1976, 1980 and 1984 U.S. Olympic teams:"With what they’re teaching those kids, they expect too much. They’re teaching bar-room fighting, not Olympic boxing. Those kids would do really well with technique and finesse. Those things can be coached, and they’re just not getting it.”
The godfather of South Korean amateur boxing is Kim Eung Youn, reportedly one of the world’s wealthiest men. His conglomerate, Korea Explosives Group, owns explosives, television and shipping companies.
Reportedly, he contributes a million dollars a year to the country’s amateur boxing program. South Korean boxing teams travel the world, competing in virtually every noteworthy international tournament.
Last July, Kim sent the entire South Korean Olympic team to Colorado Springs, Colo., to train for 2 weeks, then sent them to the U.S. Olympic trials at Concord, Calif., to scout U.S. boxers.
Moreover, amateur boxing is highly organized in South Korea, with prospects working their way up to the national team.
The result of all that energy and money spent? One gold medal at the 1984 Olympics, and one gold medal at the 1986 World Championships.
And lots of frustration.
On Thursday, for instance, American lightweight Romallis Ellis easily defeated Lee Kang Suk, who the Koreans thought was a solid gold-medal candidate.
The Koreans have complained bitterly after virtually every defeat, here, focusing on some imaginary conspiracy of judges and referees.
But the simple truth is, the Korean boxers aren’t nearly as good as the South Koreans think they are.
And they won’t get any better until they learn to stop leading with their faces.