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Wells Wins By Closest of Margins, Three U.S. Boxers Medal

July 31, 1996

ATLANTA (AP) _ Rhoshii Wells was locked in an embrace in the arms of his coaches, still pumped with adrenaline but now rocked by the tension of the moment.

His middleweight fight with Dilshood Yarbekov of Uzbekistan had gone down to the final seconds still in doubt and Wells could do nothing but wait a few more agonizing moments before finding out if he would win an Olympic medal.

``All the work in the gym paid off, we’re going to get it, we’re going to get it,″ he whispered in assistant coach Pat Burns’ ear.

``Rhoshii, you’ve got it, you’ve got it,″ Burns replied.

Wells turned and joined Yarbekov and the referee, who took the hands of both fighters. A moment later, Wells leaped into the air as his arm was raised in triumph to the cheering crowd at Alexander Memorial Coliseum. He was a winner, but by the narrowest of Olympic margins.

It took a right hand to the face with seven seconds left to give Wells an 8-8 tie with Yarbekov, forcing the decision to go to a tiebreaker of most total punches landed. It was almost as close there, with Wells getting the nod 49-45.

``I knew it was close,″ Wells said. ``Every time I looked at my corner they’d say, `You’re down one, you’re down one.‴

Wells joined teammates Nate Jones and Terrance Cauthen in the semifinals, where they are guaranteed at least a bronze medal. With three more U.S. boxers still to box in today’s quarterfinals, Americans are already assured of at least as many medals as they won on Barcelona four years ago.

Four members of the powerful Cuban team also advanced, with five more getting the chance today.

Wells provided the most drama Tuesday, much to the chagrin of head coach Al Mitchell, who had thought Wells would win the fight easily.

``He put his own self in a ditch and he was fortunate to get out of it,″ Mitchell said. ``We can’t afford another fight like this at this level.″

Wells, who lives in the Atlanta suburb of Riverdale, had not been expected to be a medal contender for the United States. He hadn’t even been expected to make the team.

But after winning his first two fights with strong performances, he was tentative and fought poorly for much of Tuesday’s fight. When the two boxers were broken up by the referee with 20 seconds left in the bout, he looked to the corner where Burns told him he was a punch down.

``I just picked it up,″ Wells said. ``We have a 30 second drill and I just went after him. I finally landed the straight right.″

Jones became perhaps the most unlikely medal winner on the U.S. team when he beat China’s Jiang Tao 20-4 to make the semifinals.

Two years ago, Jones headed back to the gym after nearly heading back to prison. Now he’s an unlikely Olympic medalist, a winner no matter what color medal he brings home from Atlanta.

``I’m going to call my mom and tell her that her son is coming home with a medal,″ said Jones, who watched the last Olympics from a prison cell.

Jones, who faces Canada’s David Defiagbon on Thursday in a semifinal bout, was on parole after serving time for armed robbery and auto theft when he was arrested again in 1994 on charges he was selling drugs. He thought he was going back to prison before the charges were resolved with probation.

Also winning a spot in the semifinals was Terrance Cauthen, who outboxed Thailand’s Veongviact Phongsit by a 14-10 margin to win the 132-pound bout.

The only U.S. boxer to lose in the quarterfinals was Albert Guardado Jr., who dropped a 19-14 decision to Oleg Kiryukhin of the Ukraine.

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