LONG before Mansueto 'Onyok’ Velasco was 'robbed’ of the gold medal in the 1996 Atlanta Games, Anthony Villanueva had himself already been deprived of Olympic glory.
It happened on the night of October 23, 1964 during the featherweight final of the Tokyo Olympic boxing competitions when the stocky Filipino went up against Stanislav Stepashkin of the Soviet Union.
No less than Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) president Jose 'Peping’ Cojuangco was at ringside and vividly remembered how the country came close to winning its first ever gold medal in the quadrennial meet courtesy of a 19-year-old kid, whose boxer father - Jose Villanueva – rewarded the Philippines with a bronze medal during the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles.
Cojuangco, then 30, said there was no doubt in his mind that Villanueva dominated the fancied Russian in the course of the bloody, three-round gold medal match, only to come up short of upending the hard-hitting Stepashkin, who won by close 3-2 margin.
“He won convincingly,” said Cojuangco of the controversial bout 50 years ago. “The editor of Ring Magazine (Nat Fleischer) who was (sitting) in front of us, was already congratulating us. But when the decision was announced, there was a howl.”
Ricky Llanos, writing for the Manila Times, said the decision was greeted with boos by a crowd of 7,000.
“Boos and catcalls greeted the 3-2 decision at the end of the bloody fiercely fought featherweight final, which the 19-year-old Filipino gamecock carried in the last two rounds,” Llanos wrote.
Villanueva, who entered the ring with tape over both eyes following a rugged semifinal encounter with American Charley Brown, was a bloody mess after the fight, but obviously did more damage to his Russian opponent.
“The Russian finished that last round with his left eye cut, his right eye half close, his nose and one ear streaming with blood,” wrote Hal Drake in the October 25 issue of the US-based Stars and Stripes.
“A roar of protest went up when British referee R.H. Gittins raised Stepashkin’s hand,” continued Drake, who added Villanueva cried with grief and disappointment following the tightly-fought bout.
Thirty-two years after, Onyok Velasco almost went through the same experience when he settled for the silver medal in the light-flyweight final of the Atlanta Olympics, although there was much debate on whether the diminutive Filipino was indeed, denied of the gold or not.
The same can’t be said of Villanueva, who was the least fancied out of the five-man Filipino boxing team that competed in Tokyo, whose biggest star was heavyweight champion Smokin Joe Frazier.
“For me, he is the perfect example of a Filipino athlete that was cheated out of the gold,” Cojuangco stressed.
[Anthony Villanueva will be laid to rest on Sunday at the Loyola Memorial Park in Paranaque City. A requiem mass is scheduled at 11 a.m.]