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Tuesday, September 19
Viloria overcomes weather and seeks gold

SYDNEY, Australia -- Hard-hitting teenage American light-flyweight Brian Viloria had to quit the tropical charms and surf beaches of Hawaii for the icy cold of Michigan to keep alive his dream of Olympic Games glory.

Viloria, the first Hawaiian boxer named to a U.S. Olympic team for 44 years, found he quickly ran out of opponents willing to fight him on his home island.

In 1998 he switched to the U.S. Olympic Education Center in Marquette, Mich., where teammates Clarence Vinson, David Jackson and Jermain Taylor also work out under veteran trainer Al Mitchell, the 1996 U.S. Olympic coach.

"It was so cold I couldn't believe it," said Viloria, who had never previously seen snow. Now he has adjusted and is combining majoring in broadcasting at Northern Michigan University with his boxing career.

"I asked myself why I was doing it, but now I'm here at the Olympics I know why," he said. "You have to make sacrifices to make your dreams come true.

"There has been a lot of support for me from Hawaii but there just wasn't any competition for me there -- no one to box against."

Viloria became a boxer at the age of nine after he found himself being bullied by his younger, but bigger, brother Gaylord -- who is now a 250-pound American football player and more than twice Brian's size.

"My brother took all my food, and my toys, so my father told me I should learn how to defend myself," the 106-pound Viloria said.

Viloria says he toughened his fists by punching banana trees "which aren't really hard" and has modelled himself on Michael Carbajal, the American who took silver in the division at the 1988 Games in Seoul.

Viloria may be only 19, but he is the veteran of the American team when it comes to experience with 33 international bouts under his belt -- and wins in all but five of them.

He beat highly rated Cuban Maikro Romero to win the gold medal at last year's world championships and the pair are again the favorites in boxing's lightest division, along with Puerto Rican Ivan Calderon, Mexican Liborio Romero and Spaniard Rafael Lozano.

The Cuban Romero, against whom he is 1-1, is probably the biggest danger to Viloria's hopes of Olympic gold and a lucrative future professional career.

"He's real good and real experienced," Viloria said. "The first time I fought him at the 1998 Goodwill Games I didn't have a lot of experience but now I'm up to par. If I can have the same focus as in the world championships then I can do it again."

Viloria, a fast-handed and quick-witted fighter who says he feels very much at home in sunny Sydney, say he can do whatever it takes to win -- regardless of how the draw works out.

"My style depends on my opponent's style," he said. "If it takes boxing I can box, but if I need to slug I can do that too."

He says he is not too concerned about being the gold medal favorite.

"It plays on my mind a lot, but I use it as a motivating factor, something that makes me run that extra mile," he said.

"I can't slacken off because I am the number one in the world. I have to keep my focus -- do the things I've been doing."

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