Teófilo Stevenson: a Heavyweight worth his Weight in Gold
Teófilo Stevenson stood out both for the record that he set - he was the first boxer to win three Olympic gold medals in the same category at three consecutive editions of the Games – and for his indefectible loyalty to his country. The Cuban boxer was one of the best athletes of the 20th century. Today he celebrates his 55th birthday - a chance to look back on the brilliant career of this athlete.
Strength and speed in any event
Stevenson’s victory at the Munich Olympic Games in the heavyweight category marked the beginning of a long series of gold medals: Montreal in 1976 and Moscow in 1980, along with those won at the Pan-American Games in 1975 and 1979 and the World Championships in 1974, 1978 and 1986. As well as this stunning collection of golden metal, he was awarded a number of honours: in Munich in 1972, the International Boxing Association, then known as the International Amateur Boxing Federation, awarded him the "Val Baker" Trophy, given to the most gifted and elegant boxer.
All well deserved! Indeed, he displayed exceptional speed and strength which shattered his opponents. In Montreal for example, he eliminated his three first rivals in a record time of 7 minutes and 22 seconds! Cuba boycotted the Olympic Games in 1984 and 1988, so Stevenson was not able to defend his title Los Angeles or Seoul. In 1988, he ended his career with a fight in Las Tunas, the city in which he was born 36 years beforehand.
Boxing in Cuba: a special case
A breeding ground for high-level boxers such as Felix Savon (three Olympic titles) and Hector Vinent (two Olympic gold medals), Cuba was unable to hang on to its heroes, however. Indeed, in 1962, Fidel Castro signed a national decree that forbade professionalism in sport. Many athletes went into exile to further their careers. A symbol of amateurism faced with professionalism, despite everything, boxing remains the main standard-bearer of Cuba. The island has done particularly well at the Olympic Games, winning five medals in Munich, eight in Montreal, nine in Moscow, nine in Barcelona, seven in Atlanta and six in Sydney.
Stevenson was among the few Cuban athletes to resist the tempting offers from abroad. An American promoter offered him several million dollars to fight Mohammed Ali, then heavyweight champion of the world. Proving his unfailing loyalty to his country, the Cuban declined the offer: "I wouldn't exchange my piece of Cuba for all the money they could give me".
Amateur above all
Amateur boxing has existed since ancient Egyptian times. Its first Olympic appearance can be traced back to the end of the 7th century BC. At the first modern Olympic Games in Athens in 1896, it was forbidden for being too dangerous. After continual bans and re-introductions, it became an Olympic sport definitively in Antwerp in 1920.
Remaining an amateur, favouring sport and his country over money, Stevenson remained faithful not only to his country, but also to the Olympic spirit.
In the ring since the age of 9, Teófilo Stevenson won nine medals, including eight golds, and more than 302 fights with only 22 defeats: did somebody say amateur?