In their Words is a weekly feature appearing Sundays in The Blade s sports section. Blade columnist Ron Musselman talked with Louis Self, a Scott High School graduate who boxed in the 125-pound featherweight class at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich.
Louis Self grew up a street fighter in the inner city of Toledo.
He began boxing at the age of 11 at the downtown Boys Club. It wasn t serious stuff, just messing around.
A few years later, Self saw two kids squaring off at a neighborhood park. He asked the referee of the bout if he could face the winner.
Self won easily.
Suddenly, he was hooked on boxing. At age 15, Self won his first fight, a three-round bout, handily.
He eventually met the late Fred Griffin, a former AAU national champion, and legendary trainer Buddy Carr at the Soul City Recreation Center on Dorr Street.
Carr watched Self throw a few punches and knock out a few opponents.
Carr told Self almost immediately that he was headed for stardom.
It turns out Carr was right.
Self was undefeated in 1971 and 1972. He won the national Golden Gloves title both years at 125 pounds and was the country s top ranked amateur at his weight.
He had to win a final qualifier in New York in front of boxing great Muhammad Ali and legendary broadcaster Howard Cosell to make the 1972 Summer Olympics team.
Self, who has 10 brothers, was considered the frontrunner at 125 pounds to win a gold medal in 1972 at Munich, despite winning just 29 of 34 fights entering the competition.
He won two preliminary matches, before dropping a controversial 3-2 split decision to Hungary s Sotos Andreas in the quarterfinals, costing Self a shot at a medal.
Cosell, calling the bout for ABC-TV, labeled it a travesty. Self was devastated, believing he had won the match.
On Sept. 5, 1972, with five days left in the Games, Palestinian terrorists slipped into the Olympic Village, killed two members of the Israeli team and took nine other coaches and athletes as hostages.
Early the next morning, the remaining nine Israelis were killed in a shootout between the terrorists and West German police at a nearby military airport.
The tragedy stunned Self and his roommate, who were housed in a building a few hundred yards from where the ordeal began.
Competition was suspended for 24 hours and Self was one of many American athletes who stayed away from the closing ceremony because of rumors there would be a bombing.
Self returned from the Olympics and fought nine pro fights over the next eight years, losing two, before retiring for good in 1980.
In 1996, he carried the Olympic torch on a run through Tol-edo and it eventually arrived to light the flame for the Summer Games in Atlanta.
Self, 55, has spent the last 32 years working at General Motors Corporation s Powertrain, where he is a sediment technician.
He also has been a minister since 1987 and has served as the pastor at Majestic Praise Ministries Church of God in Christ for the past 2 years. Self lives in Toledo with his wife and children.
BUDDY CARR AND Fred Griffin gave me the encouragement to be a boxer.
Fred was my coach at the beginning, but Buddy was the catalyst.
Buddy just kept encouraging me to keep going. He thought I was going to be the next wonder. He said I was the best fighter in Toledo at the time. He said, Louis, you don t know the potential you have.
One thing led to another, and I was falling in love with it. I wasn t getting many fights, but I was enjoying it. I worked out with people who were supposed to be better than me and I showed the skills that I had.
I was able to maintain my own and I exceeded the expectations of the people around me.
MAKING THE 1972 Olympic team was the hardest thing I ve ever done. A lot of people felt that I was not qualified due to the fact I did not have enough international bouts. I just tried to block out the distractions and focus on the goal.
I kept in mind what the Olympics is all about, the representation of the Olympics, the meaning of the Olympics, and how this is the ultimate for an amateur fighter, and I put everything into it and worked as hard as I could.
When I finally made the team, it was like, Glory, hallelujah.
LOSING IN THE Olympics was terrible. I think about it from time to time because I know if I would have won and gotten past that fight, my next one probably would have been against a Russian.
Everyone in the ring knew I completely out-boxed the Hungarian guy. He was bullish. He stayed on me, but he didn t really hit me. At the end of the fight, when the decision was made, you could tell by the reaction of the people there that they didn t think the right guy won, or the right decision was made.
It hurts that I didn t win a medal. That was my goal. I was right there on the cusp of the medal round. One more match and I was on my way.
THE DAY BEFORE the Olympic bombings, you couldn t even walk through the village it was so crowded. There was a lot of noise because all the best athletes in the world were there standing around talking to each other.
The day it happened, it was almost like you could stand on one side of the village and hear a pin drop on the other side. We heard some noises, but they had us barricaded. They wouldn t let us out.
Everybody was kind of tense. We never knew how close the terrorists were, or where they were.
We finally found out what happened from our coaches. It was very sad. It scared us. The movie that s out now, Munich, brings back a lot of memories.
IN MY LAST pro bout, I was fighting on the Tommy Hearns championship card on Dec. 6, 1980. I was boxing Forrest Winchester up at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit. I completely dominated the first round he had a black eye and his nose was bleeding. After the bell rang for the second round, I stopped in the middle of the ring. I could not throw a punch anymore. After that fight, which I lost, I said, `I ll never fight again. I had a very spiritual awakening. Nobody believed me.
Fred and Buddy said, Louis this is just a setback. I said, `No, this is permanent. And I have never put on another pair of gloves, except to train kids, since that night.