Lee Groves

10: Notable Olympic boxing controversies

5. August 22, 2008 – Felix Diaz (Dominican Republic) W 4 Alexis Vastine (France)

This one was particularly hard to watch, both in terms of style and the depths of Vastine’s anguish as he endured what transpired in the closing moments of this light welterweight semifinal.

Moments after Boonjumnong won a debatable 10-5 decision over Cuba’s Iglesias, the southpaw Diaz, as was his custom, roared from his corner and grabbed a quick 1-0 lead. Vastine’s difficult style and Diaz’s zealous aggression didn’t mix well and the result was numerous mutual clinches for which referee Rogelio Fortuleza largely blamed Vastine, who led 3-2 after one round.

Vastine built his lead to 5-2 early in the second but moments later the forces beyond the ring started to close in on the Frenchman. First, Fortuleza threw out Vastine’s chief second for coaching too loudly. Then he assessed Vastine a two-point penalty for holding early in the third, closing Vastine’s lead from a commanding 7-2 to a more perilous 7-4. Diaz closed to within 10-9 in the fourth by way of a glancing left, then tied it at 10 with 26 seconds remaining.

With the fight hanging in the balance, both men struggled to gain position. As Vastine tried to free himself from another Diaz clinch, Fortuleza applied the fatal mathematical blow. With just 19 seconds left in the fight he assessed a second penalty for holding, turning a tied fight into an almost insurmountable 12-10 gap for Diaz. An aghast Vastine collapsed to both knees, knowing his Olympic dream was all but over.

Vastine desperately chased after the suddenly fleeing Diaz, even missing a back elbow along the way, but he couldn’t bridge the hole Fortuleza forced on him. When the final bell sounded, the weight of all that transpired came gushing out in waves of screaming, weeping and wailing. After exiting the ring, an inconsolable Vastine laid on the floor, surely reflecting on all he did to get within seconds of the Olympic final only to have it taken away in such arbitrary fashion.

Diaz went on to win gold by dominating Boomjumnong 12-4 while Vastine returned home to regroup. Vastine returned to London and as of this writing he won his first two matches to reach the quarterfinals. 

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