RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - Two years after being shot in the street, stylish Cuban Julio Cesar La Cruz beat Kazakhstan’s Adilbek Niyazymbetov to become his country’s first light-heavyweight Olympic boxing champion on Thursday.
The 27-year-old, who was hit by a bullet above his left hip in his home town of Camaguey in 2014, completed the collection for a nation that has won gold in every other weight division over the years.
France’s Mathieu Bauderlique and Britain’s Joshua Buatsi took bronze medals as losing semi-finalists.
“I achieved my goal,” said La Cruz, flashing a winning smile with golden canines glinting. “I am very happy to be the first in the history of Cuban boxing to win the Olympic title in the 81kg category.
“I have now won all the AIBA titles,” added the triple world champion, who also won gold at last year’s Pan-American Games. He dedicated his first Olympic medal to his compatriots and 90-year-old retired Cuban leader Fidel Castro.
The gold was Cuba’s first in the ring at the Rio Games and La Cruz, fighting out of the red corner, won the first two rounds on every judge’s scorecard.
He lost the verdict in the third as Niyazymbetov made more of an impression but the athletic Cuban knew he had the fight won, barring a knockout.
Relaxing his guard, hands down and almost egging his experienced opponent to take the initiative and have a go, he whipped in quick blows and darted away.
There were some boos from the sparse crowd but he shrugged them off.
“They can think what they want, I was just doing my job to win the fight,” he said. “In the end it’s the judges who decide and they had me as the winner unanimously. The fans can support whoever they want.”
Thinking back to the shooting incident, which left him in hospital, he said he had recovered well thanks to family support.
“I feel that this medal is a reward for all the sacrifices and support,” he added.
Niyazymbetov, also the silver medalist in London four years ago, had been hoping to become the second Kazakh boxing champion of the tournament after Daniyar Yeleussinov won welterweight gold on Wednesday.
He said he had mixed feelings on finishing runner-up again.
“When you are winning a silver for the second time it’s a bit emotional. I’ve been training for four years and preparing myself for the gold medal and now I’ve got a silver,” said the Kazakh.
Russia’s 2012 light-heavyweight champion Egor Mekhontsev turned professional after the London Games.
Reporting by Alan Baldwin Editing by Alison Williams and Neil Robinson