Oscar De La Hoya is 39 years old, the same age as his mother, Cecilia, when she died of breast cancer in October of 1990. Cecilia passed wishing that her boxer son would triumph in the Olympics, which he eventually did exactly 20 years ago, earning the gold medal with a victory over Germany’s Marco Rudolph on Aug. 8,1992 in Barcelona, Spain.
A Mexican-American from East Los Angeles, De La Hoya turned professional as “The Golden Boy” under promoter Bob Arum with a first-round knockout of Lamar Williams in November of 1992. That was the beginning of a career during which he garnered 10 title belts and defeated 17 champions over six different weight divisions.
RingTV.com caught up to De La Hoya, a married father of four children and President of Golden Boy Promotions, on the 20th anniversary of that Olympic moment.
De La Hoya reflected on his accomplishment, and also shared his thoughts on the dismal performance of the men’s 2012 Team USA, which failed to earn a medal in the current Olympics in London.
Oscar De La Hoya on being on the podium:
“I didn’t realize all of that while I was standing on the podium. It was such a surreal moment. You don’t think about what’s going to happen afterward. You’re there in the moment and in shock. It’s an unbelievable experience.
“I wanted that gold medal for the United States, and that’s what I was most proud of. Standing on top of that podium and listening to the national anthem, that’s what it was all about.
“Representing my country and winning for the United States. Listening to the national anthem, I was just in shock and numb.”
On his thoughts about his mother:
“I was going through a very difficult moment, because the entire story was about ‘can Oscar win the gold medal for his mother who had passed away the year before in October?’ That was the entire buildup and the hype around me.
“So I was under a lot of pressure. Right when I left the ring, I mean, the instant that I did that, and NBC came up to interview me, I just broke down. All of the pressure was off of me.
“I was a 19-year-old who had all of the pressure in the world on my shoulders. So to tell you the truth, I didn’t know what to think. I was numb and I was in shock.
I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t smile. I couldn’t be happy. I didn’t cry. I was just numb. It was a bittersweet moment. I wanted to make my mom’s dream come true.
“Her dream was for her son to win the gold, and so, I wanted to do it and make it happen so badly for her. But I was also thinking, ‘why isn’t she here to enjoy it?’
“I wanted to be able to put it around her neck. It was very bittersweet for her not to be there and to feel it and for me to be able to share that moment with her. There is not a day that passes where I don’t think about my mother.”
On whether or not he thought about turning pro:
“I was thinking about going back to school, because at that time, I was really focusing on architecture. That was my dream, to become an architect.
“I was thinking that I already had fulfilled my mom’s dream of winning the gold medal. So I was thing about riding off into the sunset and forgetting about boxing and move on.
“I grew up in East L.A., so outside of Barcelona, I had not traveled anywhere. I was born and bred in East L.A. I was thinking, ‘yeah, I’ll get back to Barcelona, everything will be the same, and I’ll check myself into a local college, have a happy life.’
“But when I first set foot on land at the airport two days after winning the gold medal, and I saw literally thousands of people at the airport waiting for me, I knew that my life was about to change.
“I was still thinking right then and there that my knew that life was not going to be the same and that it was going to change forever.”
On the medal futility of the 2012 American squad:
“Obviously, we didn’t medal, at least the men didn’t medal. But I feel that there are a lot of talented fighters on the U.S. team who are going to be outstanding professional fighters. So, I still feel as if the sky is the limit for a lot of those young guys.”
On the years that have passed since winning the gold medal:
“It’s been 20 years. Now, that 20 years have passed, I didn’t realize how big winning the gold medal could be, or how important winning the gold medal could be.
“The lives that I’ve been able to touch and impact over the years, and the lives that I’ve been able to change over the years and motivated — it’s all still a dream to me. It’s all a memory that feels as if it had happened yesterday.
“I work a lot with with The White Memorial Hospital in East L.A. We built several buildings there for them. There is a building there named after my mother that’s called the Cecilia Gonzalez De La Hoya Cancer Center, where women from East L.A. can go and get checkups.
“They have all of the state-of-the-art equipment. We built a neonatal intensive care unit for women. My mother received treatment there, so that hospital, for me, is very dear to my heart.
“We contribute a lot to that hospital. I don’t take life for granted anymore. I’m the same age, right now, that my mom was when she passed. I have 15 months sober. Life is amazing.”
Photo by Ed Mulholland, Fightwireimages.com
Lem Satterfield can be reached at [email protected]