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Published: Tuesday, 8/17/2004

Sore knee is just a small distraction

U.S. Olympic heavyweight boxer Devin Vargas of Toledo will provide periodic reports to The Blade from Greece. Here is his first-person account of preparing for his first fight tomorrow, against Rachid El Haddak of Morocco, and of a knee injury he suffered while training in Athens, as told to Blade sports writer Dan Saevig.

When I was training about two weeks ago I sprained my left knee. It s just swollen. Then last week, when we went to the U.S. Embassy, they had a hole by the pool. I wasn t looking down and I stepped in it. I hyperextended the same knee and went backwards in my rehab.

If I m not at my best, I m still going to be in there. I don t care if it is very bad. They said there could be a tear in my cartilage, but I won t know until I get back.

I ve been practicing on it. I ve been moving and it s been decent. I don t think about it. I m going to think about not getting hit by those big guys.

I ve never heard of the country (Morocco) from which El Haddak hails. I don t even know what he looks like. I m guessing he s a big, strong guy. He qualified through Africa and I qualified through the Americas.

Past experience is that African fighters are physically strong, but they don t have the experience in the international ring. I m going to feel him out in the first round and then take him out.

The bracket I m in, I got a great draw. I would face gold medal favorites Alexandre Alekseev of Russia and Odlanier Solis of Cuba, who meet tomorrow in a first-round bout, later in the tournament if I make it there.

With a victory over El Haddak, I get the winner of Italy (Daniel Betti) and, uh, you know, I m not really sure what country Italy is fighting (it s Viktor Zuev of Belarus).

Looking ahead, I think my biggest challenge will come in the semis from Uzbekistan (Igor Alborov). They re known for having strong fighters.

I m definetly the fastest guy here. All these guys were looking at me at the weigh-in thinking, He s not going to be able to hit me hard.

I hit hard for a guy my size.

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