Print and Go Back ESPN.com: Dan Rafael [Print without images]

Sunday, August 5, 2012
Pros recall Olympic experiences

By Dan Rafael

With the Olympics in full swing in London, the memories of past Olympians have come flooding back. I checked in with a few boxing Olympians to see what sorts of memories they had from their experience at the Games.

Sugar Ray Leonard (1976 Montreal, gold medalist)

"What was really memorable was, of course, winning the gold medal, but really it was the overall experience of making the team, having that group of guys -- Leon and Michael [Spinks], Howard Davis -- and the transition from being from the ghetto and now I am in this huge arena and behind these majestic gates [at the opening ceremonies]. Once those gates open up, there are thousands of fans and tourists and you are somebody. I cherish that.

"I was 20 years old, so just the experience of being on the team in the Olympics and fighting for the gold medal, it just took my breath away. Looking at the Games now on television, I relate to the nerves, the anticipation, the butterflies that these young men and women have. There is nothing like it. People can say, 'I was world champion' as a professional, but very few people on this planet can say, 'I was on the Olympic team.'

"I have my Olympic gold medal downstairs in my trophy case. Every Olympics, I clean it up and think about the wonderful memories of being at the Olympics. I had some tough fights at the Olympics, but they were precious, priceless memories. I've been a gold medalist and a [professional] world champion. They each hold their own significance, but I have to look at where it all started -- the Olympics. That's No. 1 for me."

Wladimir Klitschko (1996 Atlanta, gold medalist)

"There are two things I can mention. I was fighting from almost the first day of the Games, and I finished on the last day, so it was the longest tournament in my amateur career. So in between the fights to relax, I went to the disco [in the Olympic] park where some of the bands played. My teammates and I left before midnight, due to my sleeping schedule. The next morning, we got the news of bombing in the same place where we were. We were lucky that we didn't stay longer. The other thing was, the night before the finals I had a dream that I lost the fight for gold. In the morning, I couldn't believe that I had such a bad dream, but luckily things turned differently, as you know!"

Brian Viloria (2000 Sydney)

"Walking in the stadium for the opening ceremony with the rest of the U.S. Olympians [was most memorable]. I stopped and did a 360 to take in the whole experience. There were so many flashes from the cameras from the press and spectators, it seemed so surreal. And when we were lining up for the parade of nations, I chatted with [basketball player] Gary Payton, and he called Kevin Garnett over and introduced me to him, saying, 'This is the Hawaiian Punch. He'll knock you out KG!' Garnett looked at me and said, 'Who, this little guy?' We all laughed and took pictures together."

Andre Ward (2004 Athens, gold medalist)

"Outside of winning the gold medal, I think the thing that really jumps out to me in my memories was the opening ceremonies. I was told I wouldn't be able to walk with the team because I was supposed to fight the following night and I needed to get my rest. Long story short, the coaches came back to me later and told me I had gotten a bye, so I was able to walk in with the American team. In that stadium, on that stage, goose bumps and chills. I had all these memories of my father [Frank, who died in 2002] and all the work he put in to getting me ready for this moment and him not being there and the reality of the stage I was on -- it all just hit me. I was infused with energy.

"I had a good time at the Olympics and really enjoyed it even though I was totally focused on winning the gold medal. I was the last gold medal that the United States won [during the 2004 Games], so I couldn't go to the closing ceremonies. I couldn't get there in time. But during the Olympics, it was very mundane. They were exciting, but I had a job to do. My life consisted of resting, training and taking a short ride to the cafeteria and people-watching. A good way to describe my Olympic experience is that it was a blur. I was just so focused on winning that I didn't do much besides my routine. I didn't want to have an excuse for not winning. I really wanted to win a gold medal, and we accomplished that. I'd like to go back to the Olympics [as a spectator] because I didn't get a chance to do that in Athens."