By Kieran Mulvaney
Before he won multiple world titles in four weight classes from middleweight to heavyweight, Roy Jones Jr. was an Olympian. He was voted the most outstanding boxer at the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul, but was denied a gold medal when, in the final, he lost a decision to his South Korean opponent that was almost universally considered not just mistaken, but positively larcenous. Despite that, Roy looks back on his Olympic experience at just 19 years of age in a positive light, as he explained in a phone conversation this week.
Every guy is different, but an Olympic Games is such an immense event. When you went there you were so young, and a lot of the guys in London right now are really young. Can you give a sense of what these guys are going through and how eye-popping it must be to be there?
It is very eye-popping. It’s the first time you come into contact with a situation where you feel like you’re in there with every country almost, up against the whole world. You are the one individual who’s representing your country. Secondly, in boxing, there’s the whole Olympic experience of our country in previous years: Muhammad Ali, George Foreman, Evander Holyfield, Pernell Whitaker, Oscar De La Hoya … A lot of these guys have gone to have great professional careers, and people remember them from the Olympic Games. It’s something that can catapult a professional career.
There’s so much going on – the Olympic village, world-class athletes from around the world. Is it hard not to be overwhelmed? Is it hard to focus on your one part of the games?
No it’s not, because boxing’s an individual sport. You understand that once you go out there, you go out there by yourself. So you can think about other people all you want to, but a lot of those other people have teammates. You don’t have a teammate who can help you while you’re actually doing it. In a lot of situations, you’ve got help. In boxing, you ain’t got that help. It’s just you. So you’d better focus on you.
A lot of former Olympic boxers I talk to, no matter if they’ve won multiple world titles as professionals, if I ask them what has been the greatest moment of their career, they’ll say, ‘Being in the Olympic Games’. I wonder if you feel the same way, and if you don’t, how much does the fact that you were denied the gold medal factors into that and whether it in any way tainted the experience for you.
I still say that was by far the best experience that I could ever have. The one thing that affected me was, if I’d won a gold medal it would have been even better. But by far it was the best experience of a lifetime. Because it’s like you’re at war for your country, but nobody has to die to win. You win a world title as a professional, you get paid to do that. But in the Olympics, you freely represent your country because you are the best fighter in your country.
Even though you didn’t get the gold that you should have had, I imagine standing there on the podium, seeing the flag being raised, has to be an amazing moment.
Exactly. You don’t get any better than that.