Over time, your worst moment can become your best.
Sometimes, the positives and the justice come later, even though that is the last thing you are thinking when you have earned the right to have your hand raised and a referee raised somebody else’s instead.
On that summer night in Seoul, 20 years ago, when Roy Jones Jr. seemed to have won the Olympic light-middleweight boxing gold medal and they instead raised the hand of South Korea’s Park Si-Hun, Jones thought his boxing life had ended.
Now, four months from his 40th birthday, Jones knows the opposite was the truth.
To say the judges’ decision that cost Jones the gold that night has probably gone down as the worst in the history of the sport is saying lots. Boxing is a sport whose logo should be a guy with a mask over his face, pointing a gun. Boxers and bank tellers should be soul mates. Nobody gets robbed more.
The picture of the moment is etched in Olympic lore.
Referee Aldo Leoni is standing between Jones and Park, holding high in his left hand Park’s right hand and holding Jones’ left hand at his waist. The look on Jones’ face is one of disbelief.
“Just before he raised the other guy’s hand,” Jones says, “the ref whispered to me, ‘I can’t believe they are doing this to you.’ ”
The story is well-documented.
In the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, several Korean boxers felt they had been the victim of United States home cooking. Before the ’88 Games, much was written about the expectation of some makeup decisions. In the case of Park, three of the four matches he won before facing Jones in the final were highly suspect decisions. In the quarterfinals, a defeated Vincenzo Nardiello of Italy was so incensed he left the ring and screamed at the judging panel, then came back again for more after officials had dragged him to the dressing room.
Jones had been warned this could happen to him.
“Somebody told me the Italian guy was so mad,” Jones says, “he broke his hand when he smashed it against the wall.”
Jones even told reporters he might need a knockout. He didn’t get that, but he so clearly dominated the fight that the decision was never in question. Later, the Moroccan judge said that he knew Jones had won easily, but he assumed the other four judges would vote for Jones, so to avoid the embarrassment of a 5-0 whitewash for the home country, he voted for Park. But so did two other judges, and Jones became a 3-2 loser.
“Right after the drug test,” Jones says, “I saw Park in the hallway. He came right up to me and said, ‘No, I didn’t win the fight.’ ”
And so, there was little more for Jones to do than get on with the rest of his life. Interestingly, he had taken some of the most important steps toward that the moment Park’s hand had been raised. There had been no violent show of anger in the ring, no wall-punching or spit-bucket-kicking. Stories the next day praised Jones, who had often been a cocky showoff in the ring, for his poise and classy exit.
“Somehow, right then, I knew I wasn’t representing R-O-Y. I was representing U-S-A,” he says. “That’s what it said on my uniform. USA.
“I knew that my country, that God, wanted me to show the best sportsmanship I could. If I had acted up, it would have taken away from what actually happened.”
So he got on a plane and eventually landed at home in Pensacola, Fla., where a large crowd was there to greet him. That was nice, but the sting of what happened remained and he had decided he would box no more.
“Some people were happy for me,” Jones says. “But then I saw my team, the Pensacola Boys Club boxing team. They weren’t happy. And then I knew, they were going to ruin my retirement. I knew that, if I stopped, I was never going to be able to tell somebody to keep going when the going got rough.”
So Roy Jones kept going, and it is now 56 professional fights later, 52 of them victories and 38 of those knockouts. Instead of carrying his Olympic injustice into a life of woe-is-me, he won eight boxing titles in four weight classes -- including a stunning victory over John Ruiz at heavyweight in 2003.
He has appeared in movies, cut record albums, even taken a short fling at professional basketball. As sour as the moment was, life after Korea has turned out to be a bowl of cherries.
Come Nov. 8, in Madison Square Garden, there could be a fitting way to bring his boxing career full circle. That night, he will fight Joe Calzaghe of Wales, whose age of 36 and record of 45-0 also put him near the end of his career.
Jones and Calzaghe like each other. They made the fight deal on a handshake. They are adults who act like it during the pre-fight promotion tours.
It is a special fight, quite possibly a last major challenge for each as their twilight approaches.
And if this is, indeed, the end for Jones, what better way to say farewell than in the middle of a boxing ring, with the referee raising his hand.
Bill Dwyre can be reached at email@example.com. To read previous columns by Dwyre, go to latimes.com/dwyre.