BULGARIA with a population of just over seven million people has a very fair Olympic ring medal tally of four gold, five silver and nine bronze medals
Bulgaria entered the Games way back in 1896, re-emerged in 1924, was absent in 1932 and 1948 and became part of the Soviet Union led boycott in Atlanta in 1984, and has been ever present thereafter.
Their first taste of medal glory came via a bronze at middleweight in Helsinki in 1952, from the fists of Boris Nikolov. 1952 was the Games when the East Europeans were beginning to establish themselves in the international ring. Nilkolov beat GB’s Terry Gooding in their second series bout and eventually lost to the Romanian silver medallist, Vasile Tita, who in turn was dispatched in the first round of the final by one young Floyd Patterson from across the pond.
This weight division could like so many other potential notable events have witnessed perhaps one of the greatest contests of all time, but sadly like so many other ‘non- meetings’ in boxing, this was yet another one that didn’t happen.” Future world heavyweight champion, the late, Floyd Patterson from the USA won the middleweight gold medal, while Hungarian master, the late Laszlo Papp, won the newly introduced light-middleweight weight category, his second Olympic title; having won gold at middleweight in London in 1948. Had the new weight division not been introduced it seems likely that Papp would have met the seventeen-year–old Patterson at some stage in what probably would have been one of the all-time amateur bouts of that century. Alas, like so many other great contests it did not happen and we are merely left to muse at what the outcome might have been! Who would your money have been on? The experience and ring cunning of the Hungarian against the speed and power of the young American pretender, take your pick. For what it is worth my money would have been on Papp, just, on points!
In 1964, light-heavyweight, Alexander Nikolov took a bronze medal at the Tokyo Games to get his country back on the medal table once again. He lost to the eventual gold medallist from Italy, Cosimo Pinto. Nikolov helped kick start a very successful medal era for the Bulgarians.
Two bronzes were acquired in 1968, through featherweight Ivan Mihailov and light-heavyweight, Georgi Stankov, before flyweight, Georgi Kostadinov attained the gold standard in 1972. Silver at these Games went to light-welterweight, Angel Angelov who lost a 2-3 final vote to that prominent American “Sugar” Ray Seales. 1976 saw, another light-welterweight, Vladimir Kolev take a bronze.
Moving on to 1980 in Moscow, Petar Lesov won gold at flyweight and there was a bronze for Ismail Mustafov at light-flyweight, more of him later on, with his various changes of name, but still the same very good boxing man. Lesov outscored Ireland’s Hughie Russell early in the competition and won his final with a second round stoppage of the Soviet Union’s Viktor Miroshnichenko.
Next, we turn to 1988. Bulgaria were back in the boxing ring after the Atlanta boycott and among the medals too. Light-flyweight Ivailo Marinov, also known as, Ismail Muatafov, Ismail Huseinov and also Ivailo Khristov won gold. It is not really completely clear why this Bulgarian, with Turkish ancestry, changed his name so many times, although there is a suggestion that he was required to do so by Bulgarian communist Head of State, (1954- 1989) Todor Zhivkov. He won gold, beating American, Michael Carbajal, all five judges scoring it for the Bulgarian. The Bulgarian had beaten GB’s Mark Epton, earlier on at the Games. Also at these Games, a New Zealand referee, Keith Walker had been attacked by South Korean officials after their boxer, Jong-il Byun had been declared a 4-1 points loser to the Bulgarian, Aleksander Khristov, who seemed to be the clear victor.The South Koreans were incensed by two warnings given to their man for illegal use of his head and subsequently their boxer staged a sit-down protest in the ring for over an hour. Undeterred, Khristov went on eventually to the final where he lost to America’s Kennedy McKinney. Returning to Mustafov, Marinov, Huseinov, Ivailo Khristov or whatever the ring announcers of his particular day called him, he was chosen as Bulgaria’s number one boxer of the 20th Century. Clearly then what’s in a name!
1992 produced a silver and also a bronze. Silver went to light-flyweight, Daniel Petrov who lost in the final to the classy Cuban, Rogelio Marcelo, while up at the other end of the weight scale, super-heavyweight, Svilen Rusinov got a bronze losing to the eventual silver medallist from Nigeria, Richard Igbineghu, by 7-9.
Four years later in 1996, Daniel Petrov went one better, winning the light-flyweight gold medal, outpointing Philippine boxer, Mansueto Velasco in their Olympic final by 19 points to 6. Two silvers were also earned at these Games. Featherweight, Serafim Todorov lost out in his final to Thailand’s Somluck Kamsing, but did have a decision go his way earlier over the phenomenal Floyd Mayweather Jnr. The Americans were incensed and protested vigorously via an appeal, further confusion had occurred earlier when the Egyptian referee raised Mayweather’s hand only for the decision to go the way of the Bulgarian. The American appeal failed and Todorov beat Mayweather by 10 points to 9, it has remained an Olympic talking point and sensation long after those particular Games ended. It was indeed a controversial decision, one of many over the years and not just at the Olympic Games, boxing is littered with them!
Another silver went to lightweight, Toncho Tonchev who lost in a very close and tight scoring Olympic final to the late Algerian star, Hacine Soltari.
2000 produced no medal glory, but in 2004, light-welterweight, Boris Georgiev got a bronze medal, losing to eventual silver medallist, the Cuban, Yudel Johnson Cedeno. 2008 did not yield a medal but a bronze was secured at London 2012, by heavyweight, Tervel Pulev who lost to the eventual gold medallist from the Ukraine, Oleksandr Usyk.
Prospects for medal success in Rio 2016, do not look that promising. However, this small country has caused upsets before, so don’t write them off completely, although it will be very, very hard for them to get on the medal table in Brazil. We shall see.