Good Bye Mr Lawrence

30 Nov

This was written some time ago on the passing of a sporting hero for many which coincided with the arrival of Duff & Phelps.

It was an event which in true sporting terms rendered their very existence completely meaningless.

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Good Evening,

It is perhaps a little hard after the events of today to concentrate on Sporting matters or to take a look back in time and consider, not administrators and lawyers etc, but true sporting achievement. Yet tonight it is a must.

The advent of television- particularly colour television– made the early 70′s a time of real discovery for sports fans. It brought different sports, and sports stars into our living rooms and made household names out of foreigners who we would never have heard of if it were not for the TV.

Having witnessed the festival of football that was provided most notably by Brazil in the 1970 World Cup, this 11 year old sat in salivating anticipation of the 1972 Olympics and all that they would bring.

And by God the games brought a lot.

These were the first games on German soil since Hitler’s 1936 Berlin games so famously dominated by Jesse Owens—- who, it should be remembered, had his Athletics career brought to an abrupt end by the President of the IOC just two weeks after the Berlin Games. I have read at least one book which suggests that had you offered the majority of German Jews the chance to swap places and rights with the average black man in the southern US states in or around 1936 then they would likely say no—because they were far better off under Hitler than the Black man was under the Stars and Stripes. Of course there is no getting away from the fact that this situation would change.

However, Avery Bundage was the leading American official in the Olympic world—and for years he would also be nicknamed “Slavery Avery” for his virtually out and out anti Black leanings. Accordingly, when Owens accepted some commercial invitations after the Berlin games, Avery saw the chance to absolutely exile the world’s greatest athlete of the time, and he ensured that from then on the only thing that Owens could race against were cars, dogs and horses! Olympian spirit? Not much in evidence from Slavery Avery! Within two weeks of the Olympic successes in Berlin, Owens was banned from athletics for life!!

However, I digress. Munich dubbed the Twentieth Olympiad as the Happy Games– a name which was brutally rendered redundant by the Black September massacre of Israeli athletes in the Olympic Village on 5th September. 9 athletes were murdered, and all but three of the terrorists were killed in the incident. Of the remaining three, two were subsequently hunted down by Mossad and assassinated. The Third remains in hiding in an African country to this day.

The games were halted for 24 hours, but thereafter “Slavery” Avery Bundage, the head of the IOC who had so swiftly brought Owens athletics career to an end decades before, declared that ” The Games Must Go On”—- Black September or no.

It was against this background Muncih and the twentieth Olympiad delivered sport in abundance.

We were astounded by Mark Spitz and his 7 Gold medals in the pool to add to the two he had won in Mexico.

We saw the emergence of a skinny Finnish Policeman called Lasse Viren on the track, with his wins in the 5,000 and 10,000 meters—and to be honest were introduced to blood doping or transfusion.

There was uproar when the USSR beat the USA in the Basketball final– the Americans refused to accept their silver medals which remain in a Swiss bank vault to this day.

The two American Sprinters who were favourites to take the 100 meters medals missed the quarter finals when they were given the wrong start time. Notwithstanding Valéry Borzov proved he was the fastest man in the world taking the Gold in both 100 and 200.

A strange American Dude in a Golf hat by the name of Dave Wottle won the 800 metres with the strange tactic of running last until he released “Dave Wottle’s Throttle” to pass everyone else in the home straight—a feat which was all the more astonishing because at the American Olympic trials it was thought that he had absolutely no chance of even making the team.

And even the manliest of hearts and minds were charmed by a Russian elfin waif by the name of Olga Korbut — although if you speak to her today, the same elfin waif of a woman  will very sharply tell you she is a Ukranian— NOT – a Russian!

Yet tonight all these are but bit players when remembering the start of an Olympic Journey by a man called Lawrence. Nicknamed and indeed known locally as “Pirolo” 1972 saw the start of his quest for a feat which had only been managed once before, and has been repeated only once since. Indeed he may have even surpassed these feats in later years had politics not interfered with his career.

Many will not be familiar with any athlete of note called Lawrence or indeed Pirolo, and that would be because for competition purposes he dropped the Lawrence part of his name, although to be honest within a few short years many would simply know him from his first name alone as it was enough to identify him and separate him from all others………… Teofilo.

Teofilo Stevenson ( Lawrence ) died earlier on today from heart disease.

He was born on 29th March 1952 in the Las Tunas province of Cuba and he would go on to be only the second man to win the gold medal in the Boxing ring at 3 separate Olympiads— Muncih, Montreal and Moscow. Cuba did not participate in the Los Angeles Games choosing instead to exercise a boycott. He would have been hot favourite to win.

He won the inaugural World Amateur heavyweight title in 1974 and he dominated that event and the Olympics until 1982 when he finally lost to future professional champion Francesco Damiani of Italy.

However he did go on to beat Tyrrell Biggs in 1984 and he won his last World Amateur title at Super Heavyweight in 1986 when he defeated Alex Garcia of the United States.

Of his 302 Amateur fights he lost only 22 and at one point he was undefeated in major international competitions for an amazing 11 years.

However, reciting Teo’s stats doesn’t come close to telling the story. You see Teo was as handsome as Ali and his immense right hand caused some comedic knockdowns and knockouts. In a big ring, good and experienced fighters actually ran away from him and tried to keep out of his road for fear that the big man would lay that right hand on them…. because when he did then it was goodnight Vienna.. or Munich.. or Montreal or wherever.

Inevitable comparisons were made with Ali, and after Montreal Stevenson was offered over £3 Million to fight the Greatest. Famously, Stevenson turned down the money, remained true to his Amateur and National hero status and came out with the great quote ” What is £3Million in comparison to the love of 9 Million Cubans?”.

He famously had trouble with a tough Russian called Igor Vysotsky who managed to beat him twice in lesser international tournaments… but he could never repeat such feats in the major tournaments.

Would Teo have beaten Ali? In my view no– not unless he had several fights over 15 rounds under his belt, because Ali may well have been the greatest at taking a punch and recovering and of course he had devastating foot and hand speed in his early years. However in later Olympics Stevenson’s appearance in the ring was a “must watch” event for millions outside his native Cuba because he was just that good.

However, Stevenson has an undoubted claim as the best Amateur Boxer of all time. The facts, the figures and his entertainment value support that.

At a time when the words “Sporting Integrity” are much debated, Teofilo Stevenson was a champion of sticking true to his routes, his beliefs, his ethos and his people.

I doubt you will see his like again.

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One Response to “Good Bye Mr Lawrence”

  1. droid November 30, 2012 at 1:07 pm #

    9 million Cubans- priceless!

    Excellent and very enjoyable article, the tabloids have not a hope 😀

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