SYDNEY-American boxers are guaranteed four Olympic medals. Now they fight to see how many of them turn to gold.
Unheralded light middleweight Jermain Taylor of Little Rock, Ark., used his strength to outlast a tough German fighter, Adnan Catic Wednesday night. Taylor pulled out to a comfortable lead in the four-round fight by scoring on combination punches.
Catic started to come back in the fourth round, aided by a two-point penalty assessed by the referee, but Taylor scored several times with a furious barrage of punches to seal the victory.
"I felt like I was getting stronger as the bout went on," said Taylor. "I was able to double up on my jab and throw my right hand. Being at this point only two wins away from a gold medal is the greatest feeling in the world. There is nothing that I can compare to it.
"I know I'm going to win that gold medal. I've got to win that gold medal for all those other guys that lost."
The U.S. team started with 12 boxers, the only team to qualify in all weight classes. Cuba also brought a full team because it is the world champion. Several tough losses have whittled the American hopes down to four. The Cubans still have six fighters after four straight losses. Russia leads with seven fighters left.
Advancing to the semifinals with Taylor are flyweight Ricardo "Rocky" Juarez, bantamweight Clarence Vinson and light welterweight Ricky Williams Jr.
Juarez, reigning world champion, beat 1996 Olympic gold medalist Somluck Kamsing from Thailand 31-16. The last two rounds Juarez buried Kamsing 23-9, scoring six straight points in less than 20 seconds in the third.
The bout was stopped on the 15-point rule with eight seconds to go.
"The coaches told me to use my double jab and more head movement, so after the second round I followed instructions and it worked," said Juarez, of Houston. "I was able to capitalize on his mistakes and make him miss his punches. That was the key.
"There is a lot of pressure on all of us in this tournament but my strategy is to just stay focused, stay positive and keep envisioning me at my best...which is on top of that gold medal stand."
Former world heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield gave the U.S. boxers encouragement before their fights and watched from ringside. Before Taylor fought he told him "Well, Ricardo set the tone for the night now you just have to continue it."
Taylor said the penalty for pushing just made him fight harder because he knew the score was close at that point.
"I knew I had to make my statement to show everybody that Jermain Taylor is a dog," said Taylor. "And don't look over him.
"I want to win this tournament for my grandmother, who passed away in 1998. She was a woman who didn't take no stuff and always spoke her mind. She was a strong woman. She was always there giving me advice."
Taylor put the bronze medal he won at the Goodwill Games in 1998 in her casket. He intends to hang his Olympic medal around his neck.
Head coach Tom Mustin said he was a little down over the loses but if all four fighters bring home the gold, he will be happy.
Of the 48 semifinalists, 22 are from the former Soviet Union.
Bantamweight Clarence Vinson, of Washington, D.C., fights Guillermo Rigondeaux Ortiz, of Cuba on Thursday. The Cuban is only 19 years old, so Vinson hopes to use his experience to his advantage.
Juarez will face Russian Kamil Dzamalutdinov on Friday. The Russian defeated Cuban favorite Yosvany Aguilera Zamora to make it to the semifinals. The Russian, a southpaw, will have a height and reach advantage.
Light welterweight Williams, of Cincinnati, Ohio, takes on Diogenes Luna Martinez, of Cuba on Friday.
Taylor's next opponent is Yermakhan Ibraimov, of Kazakhstan on Friday.
Ibraimov was a 1996 Olympic bronze medalist, the silver medalist at the 1997 world championships, and a bronze medalist at the 1999 world championships. He also beat the Cuban to make it to the semifinals.
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