MANILA, Philippines - It was 50 years ago when boxer Anthony Villanueva dropped a very controversial decision and lost the gold to a Russian boxer in the Tokyo Olympics.
But Philippine Olympic Committee president Jose “Peping” Cojuangco vividly remembers the cold October night in Tokyo in 1964.
He could still hear the boos. It was like yesterday.
“Anthony Villanueva is a perfect example of a Filipino athlete cheated of the gold medal,” said Cojuangco, who called The STAR to share his story.
He made the call just hours after news broke that Villanueva had died of a lingering illness at age 69 and talked of the fight.
“Anthony won convincingly,” said Cojuangco from the other end of the line.
Cojuangco watched the fight at ringside, as an ordinary spectator. He said he came to the boxing finals with his friend, Nene Araneta.
It was a tight battle for the featherweight gold between Villanueva and Stanislav Stepashkin. But to the eyes of many, the stocky Filipino won the fight.
However, three of the five judges, those from Italy, Lebanon and Tunisia, saw it otherwise. Villanueva won on the scorecards of the judges from the United Arab Republic and Germany.
“The editor (then) of Ring Magazine (Nat Fleischer) who was seated in front of us was already congratulating us,” recalled the POC president.
“He kept telling us, ‘Very nice win. Very nice win,’” Cojuangco said.
That’s why when the decision was announced, the arena was filled with boos from the crowd.
“There was a howl and a lot of booing. After that no other Russian boxer won in that Olympics -- because of that terrible decision,” added Cojuangco.
A quick check of the archives available online showed an article written by Ricky S. Llanos for The Manila Times. It was dated Oct. 23 (1964) with Tokyo as dateline.
Llanos wrote that “7,000 boxing fans who saw it all thought he was robbed.”
“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 that while there were no knockdowns, Villanueva staggered the Russian several times, and yet he lost the bout.
“The booing of the crowd, which had taken a fancy for the baby-faced Filipino battler, continued into the awarding ceremony. ‘Villanueva! Villanueva!’ the crowd shouted,’” Llanos reported.
It went on that Villanueva wept after the decision was announced but showed the mark of a true sportsman by raising the hand of the Russian.
Stepashkin made it to the finals by scoring stoppages in his four previous fights. But not against Villanueva, whose father, Cely, was also a boxer and bronze winner in the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics.
“Anthony Villanueva won that fight,” Cojuangco repeated.
“And today is a sad day for Philippine sports,” he said.
Jose Romasanta, first vice president of the POC, considers Villanueva as “the first Filipino Olympic gold medalist.”
“To me he is a gold medalist – our first. He was robbed of the gold in Tokyo. He will always be a gold medalist,” said Romasanta.
Stepashkin died on Sept. 4 last year. He was 73.