By Przemek Garczarczyk
On March 14, 1980 near Warsaw, in a horrific flight crash, all 22 members of US National Boxing Team died flying to Poland for two international matches before 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow. The US Olympic Team was led by legendary Coach Tom Sarge Johnson, who had helped the 1976 squad in Montreal with names like Sugar Ray Leonard or Michael Spinks and Leon Spinks, earn five gold medals and seven medals overall. Lemuel Steeples was the best boxer aboard the plane. He had recently won the Pan American Games championship in his weight class and was the amateur national champion and most likely would have been the favorite for the Olympic gold medal. Today, in front of Polish Olympic Committee bulding in Warsaw, Polish sports officials presented re-unveiled commemorative statue honoring all US Team members.
In a twist of fate, future light-heavyweight champion of the world, Bobby Czyz, was not to on the flight. As a member of the U.S. boxing team, Czyz was scheduled to make the trip, but was injured in a car accident just couple of days before and had to cancel his flight. Two months later, United States decided to boycott the Moscow Olympic Games because of the Soviet Union’s invasion in Afghanistan.
Today, Polish Olympic Committee members, coaches and Olympic medalists, Jerzy Rybicki and Wiesław Rudkowski with Ryszard Parulski, former fencing world champion and today chairman of “Gloria Victis Foundation” for former sport starts, presented a special statue to commemorate US Olympic Team members. The Statue, with bronze figurine of a US boxer, was originally unveiled in 1986 at the SKRA training facilities but was largely forgotten. Today’s relocating of the statue in front of Polish Olympic Committee building in Warsaw will properly honor all US fighters and coaches who died 33 years ago.