Two Americans advanced to the semifinals of the Olympic Games boxing tournament Tuesday, assuring themselves of at least bronze medals, but U.S. super-heavyweight Riddick Bowe's mouth almost stole the spotlight.
In Monday night's session, before light-flyweight Michael Carbajal and lightweight Romallis Ellis advanced to the medal round the next morning, Bowe dropped a little bomb in the interview room, after he'd put in a winning debut in the tournament.
Bowe was asked why he seemed so eager to stop Austrian Biki Botowamungu early in the bout. Money was at stake, the 216-pounder from Brooklyn said.
"Me and the fellas have a bet on who gets the quickest knockout in the tournament," Bowe said.
U.S. coach Ken Adams, USA Amateur Boxing Federation executive director Jim Fox, press officer Leslie King and team manager Wylie Farrier nearly fell out of their chairs.
"The bet is $100 each," Bowe continued, implying that the American with the quickest knockout would earn $1,100 from his teammates.
As Adams scowled and shook his head, the following exchange occurred:
Reporter: "Riddick, is this really how you approach bouts in the Olympic Games, with bets?"
Reporter: "Are you telling us the entire Olympic team is in this pool?"
Finally, Adams got a chance to speak.
"I didn't know anything about these bets goin' on," he said. "It ain't kosher."
Reporter: "Does that mean all bets are off?
Farrier, shouting from the back of the room: "Yes!"
By Tuesday morning, the betting pool story had quieted a little. Carbajal, after his 5-0 win over Canada's Scott Olson, denied he had participated in a betting pool.
At first, King confirmed there was a betting pool involving "only several" boxers, but later said: "As far as we know, the whole thing was a bad joke, that there was no actual betting pool."
Carbajal sailed easily into the medal round, getting 60-57 scores from three judges and 59-57 and 60-58 from two others.
Now, the worst-case scenario for Carbajal is a bronze medal. The Phoenix boxer meets Hungarian Robert Isaszegi in a semifinal bout Thursday. Isaszegi decisioned Thailand's Chatchai Sasakul, 3-2, Tuesday.
Ellis, from Pensacola, Fla., was in tougher in his bout, against Emil Tchuprenski of Bulgaria, a bronze medalist from the 1986 world championships.The fighters traded bombs for three rounds. When it ended, both Ellis and Adams said they expected a 3-2, and that's what they got. Judges from Great Britain, Canada and Kenya scored it for Ellis, 59-57, and 59-58 (twice). Pakistan and Indonesia called it 59-58 and 60-58 for Tchuprenski.
"Yeah, I knew it would be close," Ellis said afterward.
"I mean, I expected a 3-2, but I thought I landed more punches than he did. The coaches were all over me in the corner for not throwing enough punches."
Adams: "Romallis was scoring two and three punches in every one of those combinations, but the trouble was the other guy was getting the last punch of the combinations, and sometimes that's the one the judges remember."
In amateur boxing, only the total number of scoring blows determines the winner.
"This guy was really well conditioned," Adams said of the Bulgarian.
"At this stage of the tournament, they're all tough. No one 'slips through' to the quarterfinals."
Tchuprenski was taller and slightly stronger than Ellis, and carried a lethal overhand right at short quarters. But he missed all but one against Ellis, scoring most often with left jabs. Ellis, countering smartly with left hooks, seemed to be winning the first round handily until Tchuprenski rallied and closed the gap in the last 45 seconds.
Ellis stepped up the pace in the second round, and was in hot pursuit of the Bulgarian the rest of the way. However, Tchuprenski finally connected with the big right, on Ellis' chin, with 10 seconds left.
But Ellis didn't even blink.
Midway through the third round, Ellis caught Tchuprenski in the U.S. corner with a thumping right that buckled the Bulgarian's knees. Ellis' semifinals opponent Thursday will be East Germany's Andreas Zuelow, 5-0 winner Tuesday over Egypt's Mohamed Hegazy.
After his bout, Carbajal called Bowe's betting pool remark a joke.
"There's nothing to that," Carbajal said.
Said U.S. assistant coach Tom Coulter: "None of our guys have a hundred dollars left, anyway."
East German boxing officials are furious over two decision losses in Monday's session, when medal candidates Torsten Schmitz and Siegfried Mehnert were beaten by South Koreans.
East Germany also didn't like it when its bantamweight, Rene Breitbarth, lost a 4-1 decision to Colombia's Jorge Julio-Rocha in one of the tournament's major upsets.
But the two losses to South Koreans seemed to gall them the most. Schmitz lost, 5-0, to Park Si Hun in a bout many in the U.S. media saw as 5-0 the other way. Mehnert lost, 3-2, to Song Kyung Sup in a bout many observers believed the East German also won.
East Germany is 17-6 in the tournament; the United States 19-3.