ATHENS, Greece - The plan all along was for Toledo's Devin Vargas to move and box his way to an Olympic heavyweight gold medal. Then his knee went out in the first round today, and Vargas tried to turn the fight into a brawl.
The decision ended up costing him an Olympic medal.
Vargas couldn't land the big punch he desperately needed against Viktar Zuyev of Belarus, dropping a 36-27 decision in the latest of a string of disappointing losses for the U.S. boxing team.
"`I knew I had to knock him out or get him disqualified for holding me to win," Vargas said. "I was just trying to knock him out.''
Vargas, who would have been guaranteed at least a bronze medal if he won, was holding his own until he pivoted to throw a punch late in the first round and twisted a left knee that had been bothering him ever since the team arrived in Athens.
Back in the corner after the round ended, coach Basheer Abdullah told Vargas he had no choice but to move forward and trade punches with Zuyev. The problem was, Vargas had spent the last three months in training camp learning to do just the opposite: box and move.
"I know I could have bounced on my toes and won if my knee wasn't hurt,'' he said. "My coach told me to just go forward and I hadn't practiced going forward.''
Vargas ended up taking two standing 8-counts - one for a low blow - and Zuyev picked him apart with punches to the head as he plodded forward trying to land some big punches to turn the fight around.
Vargas did rock Zuyev with a right hand early in the second round. But as the American grew increasingly desperate, Zuyev managed to avoid most of his punches.
"I gave it 110 percent, but there's only so much I could do with one knee,'' Vargas said.
Standing in the hallway outside the arena, he choked up and fought back tears as he came to the realization he wouldn't get a medal.
"I know if I was on my toes and boxing I could get the gold here,'' he said. "I guess it wasn't in God's plan for me to get a medal.''
Vargas said he would go back to Toledo, where the football team of 8-year-olds he coaches is waiting for him, and then turn pro. He has a 2-year-old son and another one on the way, and amateur boxing doesn't pay the bills.
"I've got to go pro and make some money for my children,'' he said.
The heavyweight boxing final is Sunday.
Read more in later editions of The Blade and toledoblade.com.