BADALONA, Spain -- When U.S. flyweight Tim Austin entered the arena for his first Olympic bout after a week of waiting, the first face he saw was that of his close friend, Ravea Springs. Austin was looking up at the ceiling and Springs was looking down from the balcony when the two sets of eyes met. The sight was enough to move Austin to tears.
"When I looked up and saw Ravea there, I got a soft spot in my heart," said Austin, who broke down in the post-fight interview area after manhandling Bulgaria's Julian Strogov, 19-7. But then, people who have been through what Austin has in the first 21 years of life often find reason to break into tears.
"He's been through a lot of adversity," said John Falcone, Austin's trainer at Cincinnati's North Side Boxing Club.
When he was 14 years old, Austin, of Cincinnati, lost both his mother and father within a year. His mom, Ann, died after emergency brain surgery at age 42. Soon after, his father, Mose, died of cancer, leaving the family in the hands of his 29-year-old sister, Terry. The tragedies threatened to destroy the Austin family -- a brother, Tommy, went to prison for five years for assault and battery, and Tim dropped out of high school -- but like many inner-city kids, Austin found his salvation in a boxing gym. He and Springs met there six years ago and have been close friends since.
"That's the depth of our relationship," said Springs, who coached Austin through his bout from the edge of the balcony. "We'd do anything for each other. We've helped each other through a lot."
Three years ago, Falcone and his partner, Mezaughn Kemp, bought a house in Cincinnati for $13,000 to be used by their fighters. It is there that Austin, now 21, lives. With the $300 per month provided by USA Boxing through its Operation Gold program, he is able to work full time at what he hopes will be a lucrative future -- professional boxing.
"I can't really explain how much I want this [a gold medal]," Austin said. "But I need my friends, like Ravea and John, to help me get it."
Austin took a big step with the win over Strogov, a bronze medalist in the 1991 world championships. Although he controlled the first round with his hard right jab, Austin was given only a 4-3 edge by the judges. But a dominant second round widened Austin's lead to 12-4, and a head flurry resulting in a standing eight count to Strogov with 38 seconds left sealed the victory.