It was round 3 of the gold medal championship bout in the light middle-weight division at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, Korea. Broadcasters for the American Broadcasting Company, Marv Albert and Dr. Ferdie Pacheco, already seemed convinced that the gold medal was going to go to the American, Roy Jones Jr, who was battling the South Korean, Park Si-hun.
“Jones just picking away and stepping away,” remarked Albert. Jones had already scored a standing 8 on Park, and the broadcasters argued that Se-hun should have had another standing 8. With only 1 minute and 30 seconds remaining, Marv Albert said “Park Si-hun is taking a thrashing. It was back in 1984 at the Los Angeles Olympics that Frank Tate won the gold in this light middleweight division. Roy Jones looking to join him in the record books.”
When the broadcast came back from the commercial break, the American announcers were pretty sure of the outcome. “Roy Jones severely outclassed his opponent, Park Si-hun of Korea, as we await the decision,” said Albert. “And Jones scored from outside, scored from inside and he scored from the middle distance,” said Pacheko. “Almost anywhere he chose to stand and give angles, he out-boxed, out-punched, out-sped and out-talented Park.”
Jones landed far more punches than Park over the course of the three rounds, 86 for Jones, 32 for Park. “Should be a no question, but you never know,” intoned Albert just before the announcement.
The decision: Park Si-hun wins, 3-2 on points.
Albert’s reaction: “Well there it is! Park Si-hun has stolen the bout!”
Was this a home ring judgment? After all, Koreans still recalled the loss of Kim Dong-kil to American, Jerry Page, in the light welterweight semi-finals at the 1984 Los Angeles Games. As you can see in this recording of that fight, it was definitely a close fight. I am not so big a boxing fan that I can explain in detailed fashion why one fighter deserves a decision over another, but I would reckon that Page won the first two rounds, and that Kim came on strong enough in the third to possibly win the third round….but all up, I can’t argue with a Page victory.
However, my amateur eyes tell me that Jones indeed did “thrash” Park in 1988. And as David Wallechinsky and Jaime Loucky explain in their fun-fact-filled book, The Book of Olympic Lists, Park seemed to fight unimpressively throughout the Olympic tournament, gaining their title as the most “underwhelming winner” in any Olympic Games. “Probably no gold-medal-winner in Olympic history has been less deserving of his prize than Park Si-hun, who benefited from five ‘hometown’ decisions.”
In Park’s first bout, he beat Abdualla Ramadan of Sudan, who retired after two illegal blows to his hip and kidney. Park then defeated East German, Torsten Schmitz, in a unanimous decision, even though observers thought Schmitz had won. Then Park surprisingly took a decision over Vincenzo Nardiello, even though the Italian was winning after two rounds on the cards of all five judges. When three judges gave the decision to Park after the third round, Wallechinsky and Loucky wrote that “Nardiello fell to his knees and pounded the canvas. Then he charged out of the ring and screamed at the jury until Italian team officials dragged him off to the dressing room.” In the semis, Park defeated Canadian, Ray Downey, in another close, but unanimous decision.
For Park’s fans in Korea, it was beginning to feel like destiny. But when the final decision came down on the Park-Jones championship bout, even Park thought Jones should have won the fight. He not only lifted Jones into the air just after the end of the final round, he lifted Jones’ arm on the medal podium. Jones implied in this New York Times article that Park agreed the decision was wrong. “He wasn’t supposed to say it, but he told me he could not believe what the judges were doing to me.”
While the International Olympic Committee refused to overturn the decision, they did end up banning for life two of the five judges from that championship fight, and altered its judging methods which puts more emphasis on the counting of punches landed. And while the IOC did not offer even a replica gold medal, they did bestow upon Jones nine years later the Olympic Order, in recognition of a victory not recognized at the time.
In my view, where Jones shined brightest was right after the bout, when he could have expressed his disappointment and anger. Instead, his answer was restrained and humble.
“I gave it my best. I gave it my best performance. The other guy, well I guess that was meant for him. And that was what was meant for me. I want to thank God for having me come out of this safe, and thank everybody at home. I’m still proud to be American. Nothing I could do about it.”
After the Olympics, Park refrained from going pro and retired from fighting. He went on to get his degree in university and became a high school phys ed teacher, eventually becoming an assistant coach for the South Korea national amateur boxing squad. Roy Jones Jr would go on to be a boxing great, known as the best fighter of the 1990s, winning world titles in the middleweight, super middleweight, light heavyweight and heavyweight divisions.