Wednesday, August 18, 2004

U.S. team gets another boost as Siler wins

By Tim Dahlberg
The Associated Press

ATHENS, Greece - The hardest part for Ron Siler was when his kids came to visit. They had to see their father through the glass, at the prison where he was serving a sentence for assault.

His once promising boxing career seemed over, and along with it, any hopes he ever had of winning an Olympic gold medal.

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"He felt it. He knew what his kids were feeling," said Siler's father, Ron Sr.

On Tuesday, Siler's children - he has five and a sixth on the way - got to see him in another place even farther away from home. They watched on TV as he opened his quest for a gold medal with a convincing 32-18 decision over Australia's Bradley Hore in a first-round flyweight fight.

"My aunt said she was going to have a big party at her house so my family could all come over and watch," Siler said.

Siler didn't disappoint any of his family. With his father and the mother he has rarely seen cheering in the stands, he used his quickness to overcome a slow start and wear down Hore in the third and fourth rounds to win the decision.

The win kept American boxers undefeated in the Olympics, but to Siler it was only a start.

"My expectations are gold," he said. "Anything else is not an option."

Winning a gold medal might seem a longshot for U.S. boxers, who have won only two in the last three Olympics. After what Siler went through to get to Athens, though, anything seems possible.

A bronze medalist in the 2001 world championships, Siler's chance of being an Olympian seemed over when he was sentenced to 17 months in prison in Cincinnati for assault following a brawl.

His father and others pleaded with the judge to let him out early, telling him that his only chance to stay out of street and gang life was to be a boxer. Siler got out in January 2003 after nine months, and his father took him to every tournament he could just to keep him busy and out of trouble.

It paid off when the 5-foot-3 boxer made the Olympic team at 112 pounds.

"It means a whole new second chance in life for him and his kids," Ron Sr. said. "There wasn't anything he could do for his kids when he was locked up."

Siler, the old man of the U.S. team at 24, has been trained by his father since the age of 10, when Ron Sr. - a single father since his son was an infant - hung a makeshift heavy bag in their living room.

Growing up, Siler rarely saw his mother and she never saw him fight until she attended a tournament earlier this year. She came to Athens, though, and cheered him on from near the ring.

"It was almost the first time he had his whole family rooting for him outside the ring," Ron Sr. said.

Siler admitted to being nervous entering the ring for the first time at the Peristeri boxing hall. He wasn't the only family member with a case of nerves.

"I got myself an Ouzo (Greek liquor) before I came here," Ron Sr. said. "It numbs every nerve in your body."

The U.S. coaches had studied tape of Siler's opponent, who was on the 2000 Australian team in Sydney but never fought after failing to make weight. They knew what to expect from Hore, who danced back and forth and then charged into Siler.

Hore managed to land some scoring blows in the first round and was ahead early in the second round before Siler's speed took over. He landed two big shots to the head near the end of the second round to lead 15-10 and never looked back.

"He was coming in with some wild shots," Siler said. "But I felt he was slower than my sparring partners. I could see his punches after the first round."

Siler moves into a second round bout against Tulashboy Doniyorov of Uzbekistan on Saturday. Four American boxers have fought their way into the second round, while two others advanced on byes. On Wednesday, three U.S. boxers fight for the first time, including heavyweight Devin Vargas and super heavyweight Jason Estrada.

Cuban and Russian boxers remained undefeated, too. Both are 6-0 in the first round, though that will change Wednesday when Cuba's Odlanier Solis meets Alexander Alekseev of Russia in a rematch of the heavyweight final of the 2003 world championships.

Siler, meanwhile, will have a chance to rest and think about his big night.

"It still hasn't kicked in yet," he said. "I don't think it will until I get off the plane with the gold medal."

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