Sunday, December 9, 2007

Colombia Boxing

I had no idea I’d be watching some of the best boxers in Colombia today. I woke up at dawn to meet with some people I wanted to do a photo story on. I couldn’t find them so I took a stroll downtown. As I was walking down the sidewalk on Avenida 13, I saw a few young men in different colored sweat suits jogging past me. They didn’t look like typical joggers. I saw a few more of them pretending to punch each other. They were boxers. They looked like boxers. Then I saw some old men standing in a hotel doorway wearing sweat suits. I asked them if they were having a competition and if I could watch. They said yes, return at 2 p.m.

When I returned at 2 p.m. sharp it was pouring rain. The boxers were standing shoulder-to-shoulder, along with their coaches, in the hotel lobby. They had come from all different regions of Colombia to compete in the 57th National Boxing Championship. The week-long event began yesterday. The champions in each weight class then train in Cartagena for the Olympics, I was told. A few minutes after I arrived, three coach buses pulled up and the coaches told their boxers which buses to ride in. I asked the big coach, who was calling out names, if I could ride with them. He told me to go in the bus in the rear. I was excited to see the best Colombian amateur boxers. Though I felt kind of bad because the bus was so full that some coaches and boxers had to stand while I had a window seat. Oh well, first come, first serve. The boxer sitting next to me was from Nariño, a southwestern region, and looked young. Boxers ages 17 to 34 are eligible to compete, though the majority looked like they were in their early twenties.

It was a good half-hour drive to el coliseo Cayetano Cañizares de Bogotá, near El Dorado International Airport, in Kennedy. It was a raw day, cold and rainy. I expected to see some people at the gym, which was vacant other than some tournament officials. Nevertheless, I sat in the stands and chatted with some of the boxers. Each team sat together in different parts of the stands. They seemed relaxed, yet didn’t say much. They were a quiet group considering there were more than a hundred boxers from 18 different regions of the country. Just before the matches began at 4 p.m., I decided to run across the street and grab a bite to eat. Standing alone on the sidewalk, a boxing coach asked me where the best place was to get a cup of coffee. I told him I didn’t know this neighborhood. So we crossed the street together and sat at a table in a small bakery and convenience store. He was from Pinar del Río, Cuba, but now lived in Cartagena where he coached the best boxers. I told him I had been to his Cuban hometown and we had a good chat. When I told him I was a photographer, he asked me to take his picture, which I did near the arena as seen below.

The arena had less than a hundred spectators. I thought it was sad considering it was free and I could sit in the plastic chairs at ringside. The event reminded me a lot of the Golden Gloves tournament I had seen last April in Chicago. Though, the Colombian boxers were better as a whole, which isn’t surprising if you consider they are the best from an entire country rather than one city. Like the Golden Gloves, they wore headgear and fought three rounds. The event was great from a fan’s perspective because there was one fight after another. I enjoyed it, but after two and a half hours I was cold. The arena had a big open window and no heating. Also, my feet and socks had gotten wet from the pouring rain. I plan on going to the final bouts this Saturday and have heard the stands will be full. If not, I’ll have another great seat at ringside.


Fernando Caicedo said...

Thank you Brett for writing your experiences in Bogotá, Colombia, this gives to the people a different perspective than the normal bad news about my country.

I lived in Bogotá and used to go to this type of tournaments, I am a boxing fan since my father brought me to enjoy professional fights when I was a child.

We have good boxers in the Colombian costs, almost all of them as you see are african-american and the have amaizing boxing talent.

Unfortunately as you see the people in Bogota is not in Boxing they just follow soccer!

We have two world champions but probably we will have two more this year: Joel Julio and Fulgencio Zuniga. Tell me more about Bogota,

Thank you again'Gracias Amigo!


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