Lord of the ring
Double Olympic champion Oleg Saitov was a formidable welterweight, whose technical prowess saw him named the best boxer at Sydney 2000.
A natural talent
Oleg Elekpayevich Saitov was born in the city of Novokuybyshevsk on the banks of the River Volga, some 860km east of Moscow. From an early age, his father instilled in him the importance of sport for his personal development, and, following the lead of his older brother Vadim, he joined the boxing section of the local sports club. Such was his talent in the ring, that at the age of 14 he reached the final of the Russian junior championships.
At the advice European junior boxing champion Dmitry Korsun, when he was 16, Saitov moved to the nearby city of Zhigulyovsk, a strong regional centre for boxing. There, while continuing his studies as an apprentice car mechanic, he honed his distinctive style, which was based on speed of movement, superb feinting and the ability to inflict surprise punches. It wasn’t long before he was excelling in international tournaments, first at junior and then at senior level. In 1992, he won the bronze medal at the World Championships in Tampere (FIN) and then the silver at the 1995 World Championships in Berlin.
Surprise gold in Atlanta
Selected to represent Russia at welterweight at the 1996 Games in Atlanta, Saitov defied expectations by winning every one of his fights at the Alexander Memorial Coliseum en route to the final, where he came up against the hot favourite, Juan Hernandez of Cuba. Thanks to a sudden change of tactics in the middle of the bout, Saitov managed to disorientate his opponent, and ended up outscoring him 14-9 to claim Russia’s only boxing gold in Atlanta.
Firm favourite in Sydney
Bolstered by his Olympic triumph, Saitov went on to claim the world welterweight title in 1997 in Budapest (HUN) and then the European title the following year in Minsk (BLR). It meant, going into the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, the Russian was firm favourite to defend his welterweight title. And he lived up to his billing, securing a comfortable 24-16 points victory over Ukraine’s Sergey Dotshenko in the final. Along with his gold medal, he was also presented with the Val Barker Trophy, which is awarded to the best boxer at each edition of the Olympic Games.
Disappointment in Athens
Having claimed another European title in Pula (CRO) in 2004, Saitov set off for the Olympic Games in Athens knowing he had the chance to join Laszlo Papp, Teofilo Stevenson and Felix Savon as one of the only boxers to win three Olympic golds. However, he lost his semi-final against Kazakhstan’s Bakhtiyar Artayev (himself a future Olympic champion) by two points and had to settle for a bronze.
Life after boxing
After remaining amateur for the duration of his boxing career, Saitov went on to study journalism at the University of Ryazan. He also became involved in sports administration in his native region of Samara, where he was appointed Minister of Sport, Youth and Tourism in 2009.