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His lofty goal in hand, de la Hoya looks heavenward American boxer fulfills golden vow to late mom BARCELONA 92


BARCELONA, Spain -- One by one the U.S. boxers fell, most kicking and screaming.

All that remained yesterday was a sweet, humble kid on the victory stand, thinking of his late mother.

Oscar de la Hoya rose from rubble in gang-infested East Los Angeles, so it was only natural for him to escape his troubled U.S. boxing surroundings and win the team's only Olympic gold medal.

Two years ago, he promised his dying mother this moment. Now, he saw his father, Joe, in the crowd, crying. His teen-age cousins, crying. Nearly his entire cheering section, crying.

"Right away, I thought of my mother," de la Hoya said after becoming the new Olympic lightweight champion.

L "It came to me all of a sudden when they raised my hands up.

"I looked at my father, he was so emotional, it broke my heart. I was thinking about my mother, how happy she would be. It touched me so much."

And so another tumultuous week for U.S. boxing came to an end. No more protests. No more accusations. Just Oscar de la Hoya, alone on the victory stand as the national anthem played.

De la Hoya, 19, is the youngest member of the U.S. team, but his 7-2 decision over Germany's Marco Rudolph yesterday will ensure that he emerges with the brightest professional future.

The son of Mexican immigrants, he represents the classic American success story. His goal now is to move his father out of East L.A. He's so marketable, money won't be a problem.

He didn't fight with a smirk in Barcelona, like the other U.S. finalist, Chris Byrd. Nor did he fight in sneakers against a three-time world amateur champion, like Danell Nicholson.

He didn't get described as a quitter by his coach, like Tim Austin. Nor did he get victimized by controversial decisions, like those unlucky and unrelated Griffins, Eric and Montell.

Oh, de la Hoya wasn't perfect -- he barely escaped his semifinal bout against a wrestling Korean -- but yesterday he avenged his only loss in five years of international competition.

This was the way he dreamed it, the way he planned it, the way he wanted it. Still, de la Hoya experienced that familiar emptiness on the victory stand, still longed for his mother.

Cecilia de la Hoya was 38.

For years, she battled breast cancer, but didn't tell Oscar. She finally broke the news after skipping a week of radiation treatment to see him win a gold medal at the 1990 Goodwill Games.

She showed him scars on her back from the radiation, scars that looked like burns.

Oscar made his gold-medal pledge, and yesterday he paraded around the ring with an American flag in one hand, a Mexican flag in the other.

"Of course, I represent the United States, but I also represent my family," de la Hoya said.

"My father and mother are from Mexico. It was very important for me to wave two flags."

The family is close. That's one reason Oscar, the middle child, reached this point.

He went to the tough East L.A. high school depicted in the movie, "Stand and Deliver." He grew up around the gangs.

His father is a shipping and receiving clerk who operates a forklift at a Los Angeles warehouse.

Yesterday he told Oscar: "You've got the silver in your pocket, don't worry." Oscar replied, "I want the gold."

The fight was tied 1-1 after one round, and de la Hoya led 3-2 after two.

He didn't clinch the decision until knocking down Rudolph with 1:07 left, knocking him down with a stunning left hook.

It had to be a left: de la Hoya injured his right thumb in the semifinals, and was bothered by lingering soreness yesterday. In the most important bout of his life, he fought with one hand.

When the announcement came, he dropped to one knee, said a prayer and blew a kiss toward heaven.

He couldn't help but notice all his relatives crying, but somehow fought back his own tears.

"I was so happy. I was thinking how happy my mother would be," de la Hoya said.

"She would have told me, 'You won the gold medal, don't cry, be happy.'

"But afterward, it started really hitting me. I realized she wasn't here. She's looking down from the sky, but she wasn't here for me to hug."

Undaunted, de la Hoya plans his own form of embrace. He often runs through his mother's cemetery while training. His promise fulfilled, he will lift his gold medal to the sky at her grave.

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