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U.S. Still Can Fly _ or Fail _ in Boxing

July 29, 1996

ATLANTA (AP) _ U.S. Olympic boxing coach Al Mitchell is a gold-medal optimist. Even silver and bronze usually don’t satisfy him.

So, with seven of a potential 12 quarterfinalists, Mitchell is pleased but not satisfied so far about a team that generally was picked to flop in these games.

``I feel good about it, but it’s not what I wanted,″ Mitchell said Monday, an off-day for boxing. ``I figured about 11 would make it.″

Cuba has nine quarterfinalists, and Germany and Russia have seven each for matches that begin Tuesday.

All semifinalists are assured of at least a bronze medal, so each American quarterfinal victory Tuesday means a medal.

And while Mitchell’s sights may have been set too high, other predictions about this American team were at ground level.

``Most people came up to me and said you’ll be lucky to get two medals,″ Mitchell said of a team still relatively inexperienced internationally.

The predictions still may come true, but Mitchell thinks they won’t.

Seven U.S. boxers reached the quarterfinals in the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, but only three advanced to the semifinals. The Americans’ haul: a gold for Oscar De La Hoya at 132 pounds, Chris Byrd’s silver at 165 and Tim Austin’s bronze at 112.

It was the lowest medal total for U.S. boxers since they won a gold and three bronze medals at the 1972 Olympics in Munich.

Leading the Americans into the quarterfinals is Antonio Tarver, a world and Pan American champion at 178 pounds. The left-hander from Orlando, Fla., got a scare in the first of his two victories, then had trouble figuring out Russian Dmitri Vybornov, also a left-hander, before winning 5-2.

Other U.S. quarterfinalists are Alfred Guardado Jr., Topeka, Kan., 106; Floyd Mayweather, Grand Rapids, Mich., 125; Terrance Cauthen, Philadelphia, 132; David Reid, Philadelphia, 156; Rhoshii Wells, Riverdale, Ga., 165; and Nate Jones, Chicago, 201.

Mayweather vs. Lorenzo Aragon, a new face internationally for boxing power Cuba, on Wednesday is the only U.S.-Cuba matchup in the quarterfinals.

Eric Morel, Madison, Wis., 112, and Zahir Raheem, 119, Philadelphia, were eliminated by Cubans, who have 12-5 edge over American boxers in Olympic competition. They also have a six-bout winning streak since Leon Spinks’ victory over Sixto Soria in the 178-pound final at Montreal in 1976.

Wells could face Ariel Hernandez, a 1992 Olympic champion from Cuba, in the 165-pound semifinal. Reid could box Pan American Games champion Alfred Duvergel, also from Cuba, in the 156-pound final.

If Jones reaches the 201-pound final, he could box Felix Savon, a 1992 Olympic champion and a five-time world champion. They met in a U.S.-Cuba dual meet last November, with Savon winning 6-3.

Jones’ quarterfinal opponent Tuesday will be China’s Tao Jiang of China. Guardado will box Oleg Kiryukhin of Ukraine and Cauthen will face Veongviact Phongsit of Thailand. Wells competes Tuesday against Dilshood Yarbekov of Uzbekistan.

Reid will box Mohamed Salah Marmouri of Tunisia and Tarver takes on Enrique Florez of Puerto Rico on Wednesday.

Update hourly