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Published: Monday, 8/23/2004

Loss shatters Vargas' dream

BY DAN SAEVIG
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

Devin Vargas' left knee gave way yesterday in Athens and so too did his dream of bringing an Olympic medal home to Toledo.

The heavyweight was eliminated from the boxing competition, dropping a four-round quarterfinal decision on points to Viktar Zuyev of Belarus, 36-27.

Had he won the fight, Vargas would have advanced to the medal round and returned to the United States with no less than a bronze medal.

In Olympic boxing, four medals are awarded: one gold, one silver and two bronze.

"It hurts to not bring a medal back home with me," Vargas said. "It really hurts a lot. All the support from Toledo. ... I really wanted to make Toledo proud."

The 22-year-old boxer was hampered by his left knee, sprained three weeks ago during training and reinjured a week later when he stepped into a hole near a swimming pool at the U.S. Embassy in Greece.

"My left knee gave out in the second round and when it gave out, it caused my right ankle to roll," Vargas said.

"I couldn't bounce on my feet like I wanted, so the coaches told me to go forward and chase him. I was trying to knock him out."

Entering the match, Vargas felt good about his chances, even talking about meeting the gold medal favorite from Cuba in the finals.

"I don't think I was overconfident at all," Vargas said. "As a fighter, I need to stay pumped. I was more nervous than normal going into the ring.

"I knew if I lost, that I wouldn't get a medal. Unfortunately, that's what happened.

"But I don't think the guy was anywhere close to the level I was fighting back in the States. Any other day, I would have beaten him."

Although he felt some twinges" in the knee during Wednesday's 27-7 romp over a fighter from Morocco, Vargas said the difference yesterday was in the fighting style of his competition.

"The first opponent was running from me," Mr. Vargas said. "This guy came at me so I had to throw some power shots, and when I did, I hurt my knee," he added.

The bout was close, with Zuyev leading 8-6 after the first round and 17-15 after two. Mr. Vargas' opponent pulled away in the third, running up a 12-6 advantage.

The Toledoan took two standing 8-counts in the fight, including one for a low blow from Zuyev.

"I really thought I was up going into the final round," Vargas said. "When the coach told me I was down eight, I was like, 'What? Come on.' The fourth round, when he threw one shot, I threw two or three. When I got back to the corner, I asked the coach, 'Did I get it?' "

"He said, 'No.' "

Vargas cried after the decision.

He said he cried even more when his father, Ray, pulled him aside after the bout and told him that his uncle, Bill Greear of Oak Harbor, died Thursday of cancer at the age of 50.

It was Mr. Greear's wish that the boxer not be notified until he was finished fighting in Greece.

"It hurts even more because I told him I'd bring a medal home," Vargas said.

"I had a feeling something was wrong. I talked to my cousin the other day and said, 'How's your dad?'

"He said, 'He's fine.' But it didn't sound right.

"I had a dream last night. Somebody told me that my uncle had died. I felt weird all day. I felt fine physically, but I knew something was wrong. God works in mysterious ways. I just knew.

"The bad thing is I've got to sit around here now for a week. They're burying my uncle [today]."

Vargas will have his knee examined when he returns to Toledo to determine the extent of the damage. After that, a potentially lucrative professional career awaits.

Until then, there's time to think back on what might have been at the Games of the 28th Olympiad.

"It hurts, but I want the people of Toledo to be proud of me," Vargas said. "I gave it my best shot."

Contact Dan Saevig at: dsaevig@theblade.com.



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