10: Top Olympic fighters of all time
7. Oleg Saitov – Russian welterweight (1996-2004)
When Saitov wasn’t winning amateur tournaments, he worked as a mechanic. That isn’t surprising given his technical mastery of the modern amateur boxing style – constant movement, fast point-scoring punches and baffling elusiveness. The 5-10 Saitov also threw in switch-hitting tactics and an assortment of head, body and foot feints that tied opponents in knots, especially since his hands-down style looked so easy to penetrate.
Few did it often enough, especially in Olympic competition. All 13 bouts went the distance and all but once did he emerge victorious. In 1996 he defeated Cahit Sume of Turkey (11-1), Ho Jo Bae of South Korea (9-5) and Kamel Chater of Tunisia (9-3) before beating future world champion Daniel Santos of Puerto Rico in the semifinal and 1992 silver medalist Juan Hernandez of Cuba 14-9 in the gold medal match. He topped that performance four years later in Sydney; not only did he win his second gold by beating the Ukraine’s Sergey Dotshenko, he also captured the Val Barker trophy as the tournament’s best boxer.
Saitov pursued a third straight gold in Athens and he looked like a solid bet through the first three rounds as he won by 15, one and eight points, the last of which came against Uzbek Sherzod Husanov, a silver medalist in the 2003 world championships. But Saitov’s hopes for making history were dashed when he lost a 20-18 decision to eventual gold medalist Bakhtiyar Artayev of Kazakhstan. Still, he made the medal stand for the third consecutive Olympics, and his two golds and one bronze stack up very well in the annals of history.
The one knock on his otherwise sterling record was that he experienced several close calls. He beat Santos 13-11 in 1996 and his quarterfinal win over Ruslan Khairov of Azerbaijan in 2000 ended up going to the first tie-breaker, where a 10-10 score was converted to a 55-47 victory when five judges’ combined scores were tallied. Also, his round of 16 match against Egypt’s Mohamed Hikdal was an 18-17 squeaker. But a win is a win, especially at the Olympics, and Saitov rightfully ranks as one of the most outstanding boxers ever to compete on that stage.