Legends of the Olympic Games – 1948 to 1980


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Tokyo (AFP)

The 32nd Summer Olympics will finally begin on July 23 in Tokyo after a year delay due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Here is the second set of five legends of AFP Sport’s games:

– Laszlo Papp: Hungarian ring champion –

Papp became entangled with both Hungarian communist authorities and opponents of the ring when he became the first boxer to win three Olympic gold medals.

The fluid, hard-hitting southpaw, known for his devastating left hook, set an amateur win-loss record of 301-12 with 55 KOs in the first round.

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In 13 Olympic bouts in London in 1948 (middleweight), Helsinki in 1952 and Melbourne in 1956 (both light middleweight), Papp only lost one round – in the 2-1 final victory over the American Jose Torres in 1956.

This third gold came at a very emotional time, just weeks after the brutal crackdown on a Hungarian uprising against the Soviet-backed regime.

Budapest-born Papp turned pro the following year at the age of 31. However, the first professional boxer from the Soviet bloc was denied a shot at middleweight world champion Joey Giardello in the USA in 1965.

The Hungarian communist authorities withdrew his passport because he was concerned about a boxer fighting for money in the lighthouse of the capitalist world.

Papp retired as the undefeated European middleweight champion and was later awarded an honorary world title by the World Boxing Council, which also named him the best amateur and professional fighter of all time.

– Dawn Fraser: Aussie Rebel –

The Australian became the first woman to defend an Olympic swimming title and the first female swimmer of either sex to win the same event three times with Olympic gold in the 100m freestyle in Melbourne in 1956, Rome in 1960 and Tokyo in 1964.

Fraser also won gold in the 1956 4x100m freestyle relay and won four other silver medals in a career marked by clashes with Australian swimming authorities.

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After going to Rome, she was given a two-year offense ban, including not wearing the team’s official tracksuit to a medal ceremony.

In Tokyo, Fraser defied team orders again, wearing an unofficial swimsuit, and was caught stealing souvenir flags near the Imperial Palace, earning her a 10-year ban and prompting her retirement.

The product of a working-class suburb of Sydney, Fraser remains one of Australia’s most overt sporting personalities.

In 2015, she apologized for telling misbehaving tennis stars Nick Kyrgios and Bernard Tomic to “go back to where their parents came from”.

– Larisa Latynina: Soviet medal machine –

Born in Ukraine, Latynina took part in the 1958 World Gymnastics Championships in the fourth month of pregnancy – and won five gold medals.

It showed the determination that would earn her 18 Olympic medals, a record that stood for almost half a century until it was broken by American swimmer Michael Phelps in London in 2012.

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Latynina finished her Olympic career with nine gold, five silver and four bronze medals. “She was our first legend,” said Bela Karolyi, Romanian coach Nadia Comaneci.

“When she stepped on the floor, all eyes were on her. She demanded attention and respect.”

In their first games in 1956, Latynina won jump, floor, all-round and team gold.

She successfully defended all but the jump in 1960 and won her third consecutive floor and team title in 1964 at the age of 29.

– Mark Spitz: Seven Gold Spree –

The cheeky American boasted that he would win six gold medals in the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, but in the end he won two seasons and only one silver and one bronze in what he called “the worst meeting of my life” .

Four years later in Munich, Spitz stunned the world by winning seven unprecedented gold medals in the same games and coming home first with a world record at every event he attended.

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Spitz’s prey – 100 m and 200 m doubles in freestyle and butterfly, as well as three relay titles – remained unmatched until Michael Phelps won eight gold medals in Beijing in 2008.

Spitz immediately retired to Munich before attempting an unfortunate comeback at the age of 41 when he failed to qualify for the 1992 Barcelona Games.

Spitz confessed to being relieved when Phelps eclipsed his record in 2008. “He is now the greatest individual athlete of all time,” said Spitz.

“I’ve always wondered what my feelings would be. I feel an enormous load on my back.”

– Teofilo Stevenson: Cuban Ali –

As the first heavyweight boxer to win three golds, Stevenson turned down a lucrative fight with Muhammad Ali in order to remain an amateur throughout his career and earned the devotion of his admired compatriots.

“What is a million dollars worth compared to the love of eight million Cubans?” he said.

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Stevenson’s three gold medals came in 1972, 1976 and 1980, making him one of only three fighters to achieve this feat, and the first since Hungary’s cardboard 24 years earlier. The third was another Cuban heavyweight, Felix Savon, in 1992, 1996 and 2000.

In a 1988 Boxing Illustrated poll, towering, graceful Stevenson with a thundering right hand and striking resemblance to Ali was voted the greatest Olympic boxer of all time.

In 1974 promoters Bob Arum and Don King tried to lure the 22-year-old into a fight against Ali, a match many believe the Cuban would have won. Ali instead regained his heavyweight title by defeating George Foreman in the famous Rumble in the Jungle in Zaire.

Stevenson lost a single round in the 1980 Olympics in his last fight against Piotr Zaev from the Soviet Union.

Stevenson won three amateur world championships but stood no chance of more Olympic gold when Fidel Castro’s Cuba boycotted the 1984 Los Angeles and 1988 Seoul Games.

Described by his friend Ali as “one of the great boxing champions”, Stevenson retired at the age of 36 shortly after the 1988 boycott was announced and died of a heart attack in 2012.

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