SWEDEN has had a rather curious relationship with boxing at the Summer Olympics, in fact, two major “flutters” come easily to mind.
So far it is the only country to host the Summer Games at which boxing was not contested. This happened at the Stockholm Games of 1912 because boxing was banned by law in that country at that time. Boxing has featured in every summer Games since 1904 with the exception of Stockholm.
At Helsinki in 1952, Sweden’s problems occurred once more, when their heavyweight representative, the late great Ingemar Johansson who reached the final against USA’s knock out artist, big punching Ed Sanders, was disqualified in the final minute of round two for “passivity” (short for not trying) and his silver medal was withheld. The Olympic authorities finally relented and he actually received his belated silver medal in 1982, some thirty years later. Can you imagine a sportsman not trying to win in an Olympic final. It beggars belief, it really does!
Johansson apparently circulated the edge of the ring in the first two sessions without attempting to land any blows and finally the referee’s patience ran out and the Swede was led to his corner and disqualified. The theory often advanced for this curious showing was that the Swede was biding his time for a grandstand finish in the final; but his plan, if indeed, this was his plan, back fired as the third round didn’t sound for him. Johansson was always a big hurtful puncher, but it seems he didn’t give himself a proper chance to win Olympic ring glory. No Swede to date has won the heavyweight gold medal in the ring at the summer Games. We can only ponder what might have been, had Ingemar decided to let his own powerful ring artillery go in that final some sixty-six years ago.
However, this unfortunate scenario didn’t appear to trouble the Swede unduly as in June 1959 he became heavyweight champion of the world stopping the glass jawed reigning champion, Floyd Patterson in the third round of their contest in New York. One year later he was dethroned by Patterson who went on to beat Johansson once more time, on both occasions by stunning knockouts. The Swede sadly passed away in 2009. I had the good fortune to meet him some years ago, well before his passing and was struck by then by his relative short stature and general rotundness ; he didn’t strike me then as a heavyweight super-man as is the make today.
Ingemar is joined by Nils Ramm and Gunnar Nilsson, two fellow Swedes who also won silver medals at heavyweight in the summer Games of 1928 and 1948 respectively. Both were knocked out in one and two rounds respectively by big Argentinian punchers; but we are told they both came to try to win, unlike the man who later ruled the professional world at heavyweight for all of a year.
Ramm who was European heavyweight champion in 1927 and then was knocked out by Argentina’s Arturo Rodriguez Jurado in the 1928 Olympic final in the opening round. The 1928 championships were decided by boxers making the most progress in their weight divisions in the Olympic Games. For his part, Nilsson in the London Games of 1948, lasted into the second round where he succumbed to the power of another Argentinian in Rafael Iglesias. In both these Games, Argentinian boxers were chipping away at the hitherto medal stranglehold of their European counterparts.
Sweden have also had a problem with professional boxing, banning it from 1970 to 2007. Johansson remains the only Swede to have won the biggest prize in sport, albeit for just about twelve months duration. His place on professional boxing history is thus assured; unlike his exploits in his amateur days at the Olympics, although he remains something of an enigma where that event is concerned.