Never too old, or young, to become an Olympic boxing legend

PUBLISHED: 12:00 02 May 2020

The Olympic Rings at the Queens Elizabeth Park, London

The Olympic Rings at the Queens Elizabeth Park, London

PA Wire/PA Images

You are never too old to become an Olympic ring legend; nor are you too young either.

Great Britain’s Richard Gunn and America’s Jackie Fields are true testimony to this.

Londoner Richard Gunn, a three-time ABA champion, was politely asked by the ABA authorities to retire after winning his final national title in 1896 as he was too good at his weight.

But he made a comeback 12 years later and won the featherweight gold medal at the 1908 Olympic Games in London.

He was 37 years and 254 days when he was crowned Olympic champion, the oldest boxer in those Games which were concluded in one day for the only time in Olympic boxing history.

Now that the boxing retirement age for both women and men has been raised to 40 it is just possible that one day his age record might be beaten, although it does seem unlikely that this will ever happen. But never say never as the saying goes.

Gunn boxed three times to win gold as there were eight boxers in the featherweight division in London – six from GB and two from France.

Frenchman Etienne Poillot was halted in the second round in the quarter-finals, while in the semi-finals Thomas Ringer was outpointed and so was final opponent Charley Morris.

Gold was for Gunn and to this day he remains the oldest boxer to win an Olympic title.

Pakistan’s Muhammad Sadiq is the oldest Olympic boxer ever at the ripe old age of 41 years and 321 days, when he boxed at flyweight in the 1976 Games.

He did not medal but his feat is unlikely to bettered, despite the upper age limit for men and women being raisd.

At the other end of the age scale, Chicago-born featherweight Jacob Finkelstein, who took the ring name of Jackie Fields, became and remains the youngest boxer to be crowned as Olympic champion.

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In Paris in 1924, he was 16 years, five months and 11 days, but strangely enough he was not the youngest boxer competing in those Games. That honour went to Huub Baarsgarst, a lightweight from the Netherlands, who was all of 15 years and 186 days!

The Dutch teen took this honour to his grave in October 1985, still holds the distinction of being the youngest-ever boxing Olympian and is likely to continue to do so for posterity.

A total of 24 featherweights from 17 nations aspired to the Olympic crown in Paris but Fields could box and punch and later in the paid ranks became a two-time world welterweight champion.

As the story goes, Finkelstein was told by his club trainers to change his name as his handlers didn’t think his birth name seemed “tough enough” for a boxer.

It is believed that he took the ring name Fields after the then Chicago department store, Marshall Field’s, now part of the Macy chain.

It seems pretty clear that Fields age record, which he took to his grave in June 1987, will stand for all time.

The young American boxed five times for his Olympic triumph, winning all his contest on points.

First up was Ireland’s Mossy Doyle, then came Norwegian Olaf Hansen, Carlos Abarca from Chile, Argentina’s Pedro Quartucci and, lastly, fellow American Joseph Salas in the Olympic final.

My research suggests that other very young Olympic boxers include Ugandan light-flyweight Charles Lubulwa at the 1980 Games, at the grand old age of 15 years and 206 days.

Closely behind Lubulwa comes the legendary Puerto Rican Wilfredo Gomez, who donned the gloves aged 15 years and 303 days at flyweight in the 1972 Games.

Neither man medalled, however Gomez later won gold at bantamweight at the World Amateur Senior championships and later still as a professional became world champion at super-bantamweight, featherweight and lastly super-featherweight.

So age it seems, matters not. If you have the talent to succeed, you will inevitably do so.

Of course, the Olympics in the 1900s were so different from those of today, save to say that the Olympic champions of yesteryear were the best of their particular era and that cannot ever be taken away from them, young or old alike.

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