Roy Jones Jr.

He controversially beat Roy Jones Jr. for Olympic gold. He wishes he had silver.

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The last South Korean boxer to win an Olympic gold medal has spent the past 32 years wishing it was a silver.

Entering the men’s light-middleweight final against an American teenager named Roy Jones Jr. on the last day of the 1988 Games in Seoul, Park Si-Hun fantasized about etching his name in the pantheon of South Korean sports legends in front of a delirious home crowd.

He did get his gold three rounds later, but not the way he envisioned.

Park’s win by a 3-2 decision remains as one of the most controversial moments in boxing history, as Jones had seemed to dominate the fight from start to finish.

The outcome drew instant criticism and disdain, even from South Koreans, who heckled Park at the podium and bombarded local TV stations with phone calls protesting that the country’s home advantage had gone too far.

Jones went on to have a phenomenal professional career, retiring in 2018 with a 66-9 record that cemented him as one of the sport’s all-time greats. He is now a boxing commentator and is planning to fight Mike Tyson in an exhibition of retired greats later this year.

Deeply shaken and scarred, Park quietly retired at the end of the Seoul Games and spent the next 13 years as a middle- and high-school teacher in a rural seaside town before making a return to competitive boxing as a coach.

In a recent interview with The Associated Press, Park said his dream was to see one of his boxers pull off a convincing gold-winning performance in a future Olympics, which he said would possibly give him some sense of redemption and closure.

After three decades, it still stings that his gold is seen as a smudge on the image of the Games his country still glorifies as its coming-out party to the world.

“There’s hardened resentment built up in me that I will probably carry for the rest of my life,” said Park, 54, who now coaches the small municipal boxing team of Seogwipo City in the island province of Jeju.

“I didn’t want my hand to be raised (after the fight with Jones), but it did go up, and my life became gloomy because of that.”

Park still grimaces when talking about his match with Jones.

Desperate for Olympic glory, Park had gutted out the tournament with a broken right hand he suffered during training. He said it didn’t really matter until he met Jones, the one opponent in Seoul who was quicker than him.

With the injury taking away his right-hand, Park simply had no chance at slowing Jones, who was coming at him with “excellent speed, power and technique.”

“I was pretty quick for a middleweight, but Jones was at a different level,” Park recalled. “A boxer just knows whether he had won or lost a match. I thought I lost because I didn’t put up a fight deserving of a win.”

Park said he felt “confused” when the referee raised his hand. Wearing a stunned look on his face, Park awkwardly embraced and held up an expressionless Jones into the air.

He said he couldn’t wait to get off the podium, where he smiled weakly and slowly waved a bouquet of flowers toward the stands as fans let out hesitant cheers and scattered boos.

An even more humiliating moment came when a South Korean national broadcaster invited all of the country’s 12 gold medalists to a live TV celebration shortly after the Games. The host treated Park like he wasn’t there while interviewing each of the other 11.

There was an outpouring of media criticism and what Park described as “unspeakable” insults, which included derisive public calls for him to forfeit his medal.

The emotional distress “was like being hit with a hammer on the back of your head, again and again.”

“I keep thinking how my life would have been happier had I finished second,” Park said. “A gold medal is important, but isn’t any Olympic medal satisfying and glorious?”

Park said the sense of defeat and depression sometimes led to suicidal urges. He credits his wife for helping him navigate out of his darkest moods. The couple contemplated moving to a different country before deciding to stay after they had children.

Their youngest child, Rei, now a 20-year-old college student in Louisiana, has his own athletic ambitions, training as a javelin thrower with dreams of competing in the 2024 Olympics.

Park said he keeps his Olympic gold framed on a wall at his home in mainland South Korea, along with other awards he won in amateur competition. He doesn’t recall ever bringing it out of the house.

While Park doesn’t have many regrets about never going pro, saying he probably wouldn’t have gone far with an evasive style built for efficiency and avoiding hits but not for initiating pain, he still watched Jones’ post-Olympic triumphs with envy.

He wondered whether the public would ever forget the fiasco surrounding his gold medal, which the South Korean media brought up after almost every Jones fight or whenever there was controversy in any Olympic sport. He would try to laugh it off whenever students asked about his gold at school.

After overlooking him for years, South Korea’s boxing association reached back to Park in 2001, asking him to coach the national team following years of disappointing performances in international events, which reflected a dearth of talent in the sport.

During his on-and-off coaching stints with the national team since then, Park trained several boxers who performed decently in various events, but they never came close to an Olympic gold.

Park had the highest hopes for Lee Ok-Song, who won the men’s 51kg division in the 2005 World Championships. But Lee failed to reach the quarterfinals of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing and retired after the Games.

Park said he had occasionally kept in touch with Jones, including a brief telephone conversation with him in 2004 while visiting Atlanta for an international event.

The International Olympic Committee in 1997 concluded it had found no evidence to support bribery allegations against the judges who voted in favor of Park in the Seoul Games.

The U.S. Olympic Committee had called for an investigation in 1996 after documents belonging to East Germany’s Stasi secret police revealed reports of judges being paid to vote for South Korean boxers.

While Park left South Korea’s national team after the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro, he hasn’t given up on his goal of winning an Olympic gold as a coach.

Among the four boxers he trains in Seogwipo, Park is most impressed with Kang Hyeon-Bin, who competes in the men’s 64kg division, and Cho Hye-Bin, a woman in the 51kg category.

“I am constantly looking for a raw stone I could polish into a jewel,” he said. “I want to sculpt a true Olympic gold medalist with my own hands and see that fighter take the highest spot on the podium. That would restore my honor and allow me to leave the boxing ring for good.”

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Ten controversial Olympic outcomes

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Maximum Security’s relegation from Kentucky Derby winner to 17th place on Saturday conjures memories of controversial outcomes in Olympic history. There are many, many, many to choose from, but here are five each from the Summer and Winter Games, with help from NBC Olympic Research and the OlyMADMen, excluding anything performance-enhancing-drug-related …

1912 Stockholm
Future Pro Football Hall of Famer Jim Thorpe sweeps the pentathlon and decathlon, leading King Gustav V to tell him, “You, sir, are the greatest athlete in the world.” Those medals awarded by the Swedish royal were stripped the following year when it was revealed that Thorpe had played minor-league baseball, making him a declared professional athlete and his Olympic results voided by rules at the time. It took until 1982 before Thorpe’s medals would be restored and he would be declared a co-winner of each event. Sports Illustrated reported that a pamphlet was found in the Library of Congress of the rules for the 1912 Olympics. Those rules stated that the statute of limitations for a claim against an Olympian’s eligibility at the Stockholm Games had to have been made within 30 days. This exonerated Thorpe.

1924 Chamonix
The U.S. owns one Olympic ski jumping medal, and the story behind it is a doozy. Anders Haugen originally finished fourth in the first ski jumping event at the first Winter Games in Chamonix, France. Fifty years later, Norwegian sports historian Jacob Vaage noticed an error in the results that gave bronze medalist Thorleif Haug too many points. The correction bumped Haugen into third. Then 85, Haugen was awarded the bronze medal by Haug’s daughter at a special ceremony.

1968 Grenoble
French legend Jean-Claude Killy completed a sweep of the three Alpine skiing events, but not before his last gold came under dispute. Austrian Karl Schranz stopped during his second and final slalom run when he said he saw a person stray onto the foggy course. Schranz was given a re-run and beat Killy’s overall time. He was the gold medalist for two hours until being disqualified after it was discovered he missed two gates in his original second run. The Austrians argued the course trespasser was a French policeman who interfered with Schranz on purpose to boost Killy’s hopes. The French claimed Schranz made up the mystery man story after missing the gate.

1972 Munich
The U.S. men’s basketball team came to Germany with a 50-plus-game win streak, having won all seven gold medals in Olympic history. In the final against the Soviet Union, it appeared en route to No. 8 when Doug Collins sank two free throws with three seconds left to give the Americans their first lead, 50-49. The Soviet Union actually got three inbounds plays, the last redo controversially awarded by the FIBA secretary-general. Sasha Belov scored a layup on the last one to win 51-50. The U.S. players refused to accept silver medals, leaving the second step of the podium empty during the victory ceremony.

1984 Los Angeles
The women’s 3000m was one of the more anticipated events of the track and field program. That was largely due to American Mary Decker, who had swept the 1500m and 3000m at the 1983 World Championships. At 1700m and the front of the race, Decker’s foot made contact with the heel of 18-year-old barefoot runner Zola Budd. Decker went down, injured and in tears, and did not finish. Budd was booed the rest of the race and faded to seventh. Budd tried to apologize, but an upset Decker did not accept at the time. The two later reunited for a 2016 documentary.

1988 Seoul
U.S. boxer Roy Jones Jr. landed 86 of 303 punches to South Korean Park Si-Hun‘s 32 out of 188 in the light middleweight final, but Park won a 3-2 decision. A judge later said he felt so badly for the host-nation fighter Park that he gave him the vote, assuming Jones would still win 4-1. Park even apologized to Jones, saying, “I lost the fight. I feel very bad.” And Jones earned the Val Barker Award as the most technically proficient boxer across all divisions at the Games.

1998 Nagano
Canadian Ross Rebagliati won the first Olympic snowboarding gold medal in the giant slalom. But three days later, he was stripped of it for testing positive for marijuana, igniting controversy. Rebagliati claimed it was from second-hand smoke and protested. His appeal was accepted and his medal returned on the grounds that marijuana was not performance-enhancing. Rebagliati has in recent years returned to headlines for launching a legal marijuana business.

2002 Salt Lake City (Short Track Speed Skating)
Apolo Ohno was already burgeoning as the sport’s first mainstream star when, over a four-day stretch, he earned silver and gold medals in unexpected fashion. First, he flailed on his hands and knees across the finish line for silver in the 1000m after he and three other skaters fell in the final turn, going for gold. Australian underdog Steven Bradbury took the win as the only man left standing, but Ohno was praised for his grit and quick thinking. Then came the real controversy in the 1500m final. Ohno originally finished second again, this time to South Korean Kim Dong-Sung, but Kim was disqualified moments later for bumping Ohno during the race. Kim, on a victory lap, threw a South Korean flag onto the ice. The fallout continued. By various accounts, Ohno was dubbed “the most hated athlete in South Korea” by a Seoul newspaper and when he later returned for a World Cup competition there, he was accompanied by 100 police officers in riot gear at the airport. At the 2002 FIFA World Cup, South Korean Ahn Jung-Hwan referenced the DQ in a goal celebration of a 1-1 tie with the U.S., mimicking a short track skater’s striding motion. “We knew that our people still have some grudge against the United States for the skating incident, so we wanted to allay that with the goal ceremony,” Ahn told reporters after the game.

2002 Salt Lake City (Figure Skating)
An unprecedented second set of gold medals was awarded to Canadians Jamie Sale and David Pelletier in the pairs’ event after a French judge said she was pressured to rank them below Russians Yelena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze in what turned out to be a 5-4 judges’ decision. Later that year, figure skating’s judging system was overhauled. The 6.0 scale was thrown out. A code of points was instituted that, while undergoing tweaks, is still in place today.

2004 Athens
Gymnastics judging imbroglios in Greece ultimately helped expedite that sport’s judging system change. In the men’s all-around final, South Korean Yang Tae-Young‘s parallel bars score was protested by his federation two days after the event for having a start value one tenth too low. Had it been a tenth higher, Yang would have earned gold rather than the bronze behind American champion Paul Hamm. The International Gymnastics Federation ruled that Yang’s start value should have been a tenth higher but did not change the results (the Americans also noted that Yang was not penalized two tenths during his routine for having too many hangs). Nevertheless, FIG president Bruno Grandi then wrote Hamm a letter urging him to give the gold medal to Yang. A final South Korean appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport was denied, in part because the original protest was filed too late. Hamm remains the gold medalist. Later in the Athens Games, a booing crowd led to a score upgrade for Russian Alexei Nemov in the high bar final. Hamm was the next man up who had to wait nearly 10 minutes before the episode ended. Hamm ultimately earned silver, losing a tiebrearker to Italian Igor Cassina.

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