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Khan, Saitov share boxing spotlight with Cubans

August 26, 2004 20:18 IST

British teenager Amir Khan and seasoned Russian Oleg Saitov will share the spotlight with a clutch of Cubans in the closing stages of the Olympic boxing tournament.

Friday's semi-finals and the weekend finals will be business as usual for a mighty Cuban team on their way to another gold haul but could bring something really special to both Khan and Saitov.

Lightweight Khan, 17, is hoping to become the youngest Olympic boxing champion in over 50 years while welterweight Saitov is trying to emulate Cuban greats Teofilo Stevenson and Felix Savon by winning a third title.

Already the revelation of the competition, Khan faces Serik Yeleuov of Kazakhstan on Friday for a place in the final, in which he would be likely to meet Cuban Mario Kindelan.

If he were to upset Kindelan, who is nearly twice his age at 33 and is widely regarded as the world's best amateur boxer, Khan would become the youngest Olympic champion since American Floyd Patterson in 1952.

"The pressure is off me now and I think I will be more relaxed and could box even better in the next contests," Khan warned.

While Khan should again show off his dazzling skills, Saitov will rely on his awkward, yet effective style in a bid to become the fourth boxer to win three Olympic titles and the third to do so in the same weight class.

The Russian, famous for pleasing judges more than crowds, has failed to shine so far but has done just enough to set up a semi-final bout with Kazakhstan's Bakhtyar Artayev.

NO DECLINE

The Cubans are unlikely to make history by topping the seven golds they captured in 1992 in Barcelona, the most by any nation at a non-boycotted Games.

However, with eight boxers in the semi-finals, they have already proved that the decline predicted by their rivals was wishful thinking.

The mission for the Cubans is to better their tally of four golds from each of the last two Games, a disappointment by their own standards.

The dominant force in Olympic boxing before Cuba's reign, the Americans will be happy with just one title after leaving Sydney four years ago without any for the first time at Olympics in over 50 years.

They have two boxers still in contention in middleweight Andre Dirrell and light-heavyweight Andre Ward, both talented fighters clever enough tactically to meet the requirements of the electronic scoring system.

They face huge tasks in the semi-finals against the world champions in their weight classes, Dirrell challenging Gennadiy Golovkin of Kazakhstan and Ward taking on Uzbekistan's Utkirbek Haydarov.

The Americans are a long way from the glory days of Cassius Clay, Joe Frazier and Sugar Ray Leonard, but at least humiliation can be avoided.

"I feel like I've been reborn," American coach Basheer Abdullah said after Dirrell and Ward advanced to the last four.


Athens 2004: The Complete Coverage

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