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The crowd whistled every so often in derision, but Cuba's Felix
Savon, bless him, was trying to make this a good fight. He kept
stalking Canada's David Defiagbon, and he kept throwing punches
at the constantly retreating boxer, pounding Defiagbon even when
he cowered against the ropes with his hands pressed tight
against his headgear.

Cuba's gilt-edged reputation for turning out the best amateur
boxers in the world was built by fighters like Savon, a
five-time world champion with sledgehammer fists and Sidney
Poitier looks. Of the two Olympic golds the 28-year-old Savon
has now won at 200 pounds, the one he earned yesterday at
Alexander Memorial Coliseum came much easier than the first.

Defiagbon didn't score his first point in his 20-2 loss until 38
seconds remained in the second round. It was almost laughable
when he sat down at his postfight news conference--smiling and
blinking like a man who had just walked out of a plane crash
somehow unscathed--and started the session by saying, "I just
lost to a better boxer today."

No kidding.

Savon and Ariel Hernandez, at 165 pounds, won Cuba's first two
boxing gold medals of the Atlanta Games with convincing (yet
stylistically unsatisfying) decisions. When the afternoon's
six-bout card was through, it was telling that much of the
postfight discussion centered on whether the Cubans' 2-2 split
in their four bouts was a sign that their boxing juggernaut was
finally slowing down after 24 years of steamrollering the rest
of the world. Only Cuba could win two golds and two silvers in
one day and--with three more boxers set to go on the Games'
final, six-bout card today--be accused of slippage.

Hungary's Istvan Kovacs got the murmuring started by cobbling
together a 14-7 win over Cuba's Arnaldo Mesa at 119 pounds. Two
bouts later, in a rematch of the 1995 world championship bout at
148 pounds, three-time Cuban world champion Juan Hernandez lost
a questionable 14-9 decision to Oleg Saitov, a 22-year-old
Russian Army fighter who thumped one glove on his chest and
giddily asked, "Me?" when the decision was whispered to him in
his corner immediately after the fight.

Afterward, Cuban coach Alcides Sagarra was so upset that some of
Saitov's blows were counted, he slammed Hernandez's headgear to
the canvas and gestured angrily. Cuba--mighty Cuba--was off to a
0-2 start.

That left it up to Ariel Hernandez--no relation to Juan--and
Savon to restore their nation's pride, at least for a day. And
they did. Hernandez danced out of harm's way throughout his 11-3
win over Turkish 165-pounder Malik Beyleroglu. And Defiagbon
might have needed smelling salts had his fight against Savon
been four rounds instead of three.

In the first round, Savon growled angrily at himself after he
saw an opening and just missed landing a whistling right hand to
Defiagbon's head. By the third, Savon was measuring Defiagbon
for a knockout. Savon had the crowd howling.

Cuba wasn't finished after all.

COLOR PHOTO: V.J. LOVERO Savon (left) drilled Defiagbon at will and rang up a second Olympic title. [Felix Savon and David Defiagbon]