Gold Medal Turns Friends Into Enemies


In the quiet of their dressing room, the two boxers heard a knock on the door.

It was the 1924 Olympics in Paris and it was time for Jackie Fields and Joe Salas to compete--against each other. Incredibly, the two featherweights were not only both from Los Angeles, but both had learned to box at the Los Angeles Athletic Club.

Now, it was time.

In 1983, Salas remembered the moment: "When they knocked on the door, we looked at each other and started to cry, and we hugged each other. Ten minutes later, we were beating the hell out of each other."

Fields, only 16, decisioned Salas and won the gold medal, Salas the silver.

And another Los Angeles Athletic Club boxer, flyweight Fidel La Barba, won a gold medal that day.

Later, Fields and La Barba both became pro world champions. Salas, troubled by frequent hand injuries, retired in 1929 with a 42-6 record. His loss to Fields in that gold-medal match was the only defeat of his amateur career.

In 1987, Fields and Salas died eight days apart, Fields at 79, Salas at 83. La Barba died at 76 in 1981.

Fields in later years became chairman of the Nevada Athletic Commission. Salas built a house in East Los Angeles in 1932 and lived in it the rest of his life.

Sadly, their spirited bout for the 1924 gold medal destroyed a friendship.

Said Fields, in 1969: "I won decisively that day and to this day Joe has never spoken to me. I really don't know why."


Also on this date: In 1957, the Dodgers' Duke Snider hit his 300th home run. . . In 1965, the Yankees' Mel Stottlemyre became the first pitcher in 55 years to hit an inside-the-park grand slam.

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