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On This Date in Sports August 2, 1980: The Cuban Legend

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Teofilo Stevenson of Cuba becomes the first boxer to win the heavyweight gold medal at three consecutive Olympics, outpointing Pyotr Zaev of the Soviet Union in three rounds at the Moscow Games. Stevenson, who also won Gold in Munich in 1972 and Montreal in 1976, would get a chance to add to his tally as Cuba boycotted both the 1984 Games in Los Angeles and the 1988 Games in Seoul.

Teofilo Stevenson was born into a different Cuba on March 29, 1952. From an early age, Stevenson grew up sparring in an open-air gym that is father frequented. The young Stevenson caught the attention of national light heavyweight champion John Herrera. At first, Teofilo Stevenson, Sr. kept his wife in the dark about the younger Stevenson’s boxing lessons, but as the youngster got more involved with boxing, it was time for her to learn the truth. At first, the mother was angry but allowed him to continue to train as a boxer.

As Teofilo Stevenson continued to grow, he became a junior boxing champion. Cuba banned professional sports in 1962, turning to a state-run system like all Communist countries. Trained by the state-run system, Stevenson became a rising star on the Cuban boxing team, winning a Gold Medal in the Caribbean and Central American Boxing championships at the age of 18, in 1970. 

Teofilo Stevenson's first Gold Medal came at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich. The Cubans won three Gold Medals in Munich with Stevenson leading the way. The heavyweight dominated and won the Gold Medal without breaking a sweat as Ion Alexe of Romania was unable to fight in the finals after an injury. Four years later in Montreal, Teofilo Stevenson again won the Gold Medal again. He also won the Gold Medal in the Boxing World Championships in 1974 in Havana.

After he beat Mircea Simon of Romania in Montreal, Teofilo Stevenson received offers to turn professional, including a potential $5 million fight with Muhammad Ali. However, Stevenson, a national hero in Cuba, remained an amateur and stayed in the state-run communist system in Cuba as he became the first boxer to win three Olympic Gold Medals at the Moscow Olympics. Stevenson won three World Championship Gold Medals, winning in 1978 in Belgrade and 1986 in Reno. In 1982 at the Munich World Championships, he lost an early match to eventual Gold Medalist Francesco Damini of Italy.

Teofilo Stevenson remained a top-rated boxer through the 1980s but never returned to the Olympics as Cuba boycotted the 1984 Games in Los Angeles. Cuba chose to join the Soviet Union as a response to the United States boycotting the 1980 Moscow Games. Cuba also boycotted the 1988 Games in Seoul because North Korea was not allowed to be a co-host.