Published June 12, 2012
HAVANA – Cuban boxing legend Teófilo Stevenson, the three-time Olympic heavyweight champion who despite spending his entire boxing career in Cuba as an amateur, still sparked talk of his being the best fighter in the world, has died from a heart attack. He was 60.
Stevenson was known for his devastating right hand and a gentlemanly demeanor, as well as for refusing a large sum of money to take on Muhammad Ali.
"What is one million dollars compared to the love of eight million Cubans?" Stevenson once said.
Earlier a sports official, speaking on condition of anonymity lacking authorization to pre-empt an official announcement, said Stevenson had a heart attack.
"The Cuban sporting family was moved today by the passing of one of the greatest of all time," said a statement read on the news Monday night. He died of heart disease, it added.
Considered by some to be the most accomplished amateur boxer in history, Stevenson first won gold in 1972 in Munich and followed that up in 1976 at Montreal.
"The Olympic Games in Munich and Montreal are the fondest memories I have from my life, the best stage of my career," he told The Associated Press earlier this year.
In 1980, he won his third Olympic title in Moscow, becoming the second boxer to win gold at three separate games after Hungarian Lazlo Papp. Félix Savón, Stevenson's countryman, accomplished the feat in 2000.
Known affectionately on the island by the nickname "Pirolo," Stevenson has a punishing right, polished technique, deft hand and footwork, and an impeccable sense of sportsmanship.
Stevenson was born March 29, 1952, to a family of modest means, in Las Tunas province in eastern Cuba. He fought in his first match at the age of 14, and two years later won his first international title in the Central American and Caribbean championship.
As his accomplishments grew, boxing fans began salivating over the prospect of a "fight of the century" pitting him against Muhammad Ali. But Cuba insisted that he not lose his amateur status, and the bout never took place.
After Stevenson won his first world title in 1974, Sports Illustrated ran the headline: "He'd Rather Be Red Than Rich."
Stevenson won world amateur titles again in 1978 and 1986, and was forced to pass up a shot at a fourth Olympic gold when Cuba did not attend the 1984 Games in Los Angeles. He retired in 1988 after Cuba decided to skip the Seoul Olympics as well.
In January, Stevenson spent 15 days in intensive care after doctors detected a clot in an artery near his heart. He was released in early February and was surprised at the outpouring of media reports that his condition was grave.
"People called me from all over Cuba, from other parts of the world, even from Miami," Stevenson said.
In his later years, Stevenson served as vice president of Cuba's boxing federation and at the island's national sports institute. He had two children.