Australia’s Damien Hooper made headlines inside and outside the ring at the Olympic boxing tournament on Monday.
The hugely talented 20-year-old light heavyweight landed the first blow to a previously unbeaten US team by beating the highly rated Marcus Browne 13-11 in an engrossing contest.
It justified the belief among his compatriots that he can end Australia’s 24-year wait for an Olympic boxing medal.
However, by entering the arena dressed in a T-shirt with the Aboriginal flag he fell foul of International Olympic Committee (IOC) rules, which state only flags of competing nations can be displayed at Games events.
An unrepentant Hooper, who shortly before the Games was disciplined and sent home for a disagreement with the coaching staff, insisted he had no regrets about his actions.
“I’m an Aborigine representing my culture and my people here at the Olympic Games,” said Hooper, sent home from the 2010 Commonwealth Games a week early for allegedly dropping his trousers in front of an official.
Hooper, who was the first indigenous Australian boxer to triumph at junior world-title level when he won Youth Olympics gold in 2010, had a thrilling battle with Browne.
The American took a one point lead into the final round, but that was erased when he then had to undergo a standing count midway through the last and although the 21-year-old American fought back strongly it was not enough.
Browne blamed himself for not following the advice of his corner, but also accused Hooper of attempting to rough him up.
“He was boxing dirty, trying to push, trying to throw me around,” said Browne, who had wanted to win gold in memory of his late mentor N’Watchi Hartley, killed in a car crash in 2008.
“However, I have only myself to blame for the defeat,” he said.
Hooper, who reached the quarter-finals of last year’s world championships, said Browne had been running scared in the final round.
“I could see it in his eyes and his body language that he didn’t want to be there,” he said.
Hooper will have an even tougher examination next time out as he is up against the highly rated fourth-seeded Russian Igor Mekhontcev.
However, his task is minor compared to that of fellow light heavyweight Ihab Almatbouli, who will now fight top-seeded Cuban Julio la Cruz Peraza.
The Jordanian was content to revel in the moment after making history for his country.
The 26-year-old from the Palestinian refugee camp of Al-Baqaa, on the outskirts of Amman, became the first Jordanian to contest an Olympic boxing bout on Monday and capped it by beating Nigerian Lukmon Lawal 19-7.
“I hope due to all my achievements I am going to be a role model, especially to the young back home,” said Almatbouli, coached by Cuban Jorge Socarras.
Victory was especially pleasing for Almatbouli, because five years ago he collapsed through lack of oxygen after a bruising world championship bout.
“After all the difficulties I have had in my life, I’ve never stopped sports and it has provided me with the greatest pleasure and an escape route,” he said.
There was no such fairytale for Ajmal Faisal as the 21-year-old Afghan was outclassed by the vastly more experienced Frenchman Nordine Oubaali.
He left happy, having overcome political opposition to his Olympic participation from Taliban insurgents and other Afghan groups.
“I am proud that I was able to persevere and represent my country at these Games where the eyes of the world are on you,” Faisal said.