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Thread: 30 Years Since Plane Crash in Warsaw Carrying Olympians Boxers

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    30 Years Since Plane Crash in Warsaw Carrying Olympians Boxers

    30 Years Since Plane Crash in Warsaw Carrying Olympians Boxers
    Ken Hissner (March 16, 2010) Doghouse Boxing

    In talking with Ted Palac, one of USA’s best trainers the other day he reminded me of the 30th anniversary of the horrendous plane crash in Warsaw, Poland. There were 14 boxers and 8 officials from the USA team on the plane that went down taking 77 passengers and 10 crew members overall in the worst air crash in Poland’s history on that 14th of March in 1980.

    Palac was a member of the 1966 Polish team that travelled to Sweden. Palac never returned to Poland staying in Sweden for 2 years. He would come to the US in 1968 and later produced 2 sons that would become National Champions. There was David in 1995 and 1996 and Arthur in 1999 and 2000.

    In spite of President Carter boycotting the 1980 Olympics in Moscow, Russia, tournaments were still being held with US boxers throughout Europe and Russia in 1979. On the flight were boxers Tyrone Clayton and Lonnie Young from Philadelphia. Young had a recreation center in the Germantown section of the city named after him. Clayton took the place of Robert “Bam Bam” Hines who would later become a world light middleweight champion. Marvis Frazier was another Philadelphian who did not make the trip due to his father, “Smokin” Joe Frazier advising him not to go. Nearby Coatesville heavyweight Jimmy Clark showed up late and missed the train. Former world light heavyweight champion bobby Czyz had once told Clark “you’ll even be late for your funeral someday!” How right he was.

    State of Washington’s Davey Armstrong would also miss the plane due to a lost airline ticket. Armstrong was a member of the 1972 and 1976 Olympic teams. Speaking of the 1976 team, Tom “Sarge” Johnson, their coach also was on the plane. Another Washington boxer was not so fortunate in Chuck Robinson of Port Angeles. Others on the flight were Lemuel Steepels, from St. Louis, Andre McCoy, of New Bedford, Mass., Paul Palomino, who was the brother of Carlos Palomino, the former world welterweight champion. Kelvin Anderson, like Young, had a recreation center named after him in Hartford. Walter Harris, of San Francisco, Byron Lindsey, of San Ysidro, Byron Payton, George Pimental, David Rodriguez, Pamona, Jerome Stewart, US Army, Sgt. Elliot Chavis, were among the boxers. Col. Bernanrd Callahan, Carlisle official, Junior Robles, coach, Yrenio. Delores Wesson, physician’s wife, Dr. Ray Wesson, team physician, Joseph Bland, John Radison and Steve Smiegel were others.

    Not only should we not forget the 1980 team that didn’t compete in the Olympics, but more so the 14 boxers whose lives were taken before they had a chance to compete for the team.

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    Re: 30 Years Since Plane Crash in Warsaw Carrying Olympians Boxers

    This is one of the great forgotten tragedies of US boxing; you rarely see a reference to it anywhere and even in the publications of the day it received relatively little coverage.

    Yet Sarge Johnson was a coaching legend and mastermind of the the all-conquering 1976 Olympic team, while some of the lost fighters would have been the champions of tomorrow, not least Lemuel Steeples, who had already shown signs of greatness. It surprises me that there has never been a TV documentary or at least an in-depth magazine article about this disaster.

    Here is another report on it:

    "1980 : Boxing team among casualties in Polish Air crash

    A Polish Airlines flight, on a Soviet-built Ilyushin 62 jet, crashes while attempting to land in Warsaw, killing all 87 people on board, including 22 members of the United States boxing team, on this day in 1980.

    The flight originated in New York and carried 77 passengers and 10 crew members, in addition to the young boxers. On its approach to the airport there were problems with the landing gear. The pilots attempted a second approach using a special procedure to account for the faulty landing gear. However, the additional thrust used in the procedure caused one of the plane’s engines to break apart, which in turn severed the rudder and elevator control lines, which were needed to control the direction and altitude of the plane. A half-mile from the airport, the plane crashed into an army base that had been a 19th-century fortress. Much of the fuselage landed in a water-filled moat around the base. Due to the location of the crash site, which was difficult to reach, the bodies remained there for more than a day.

    Among the victims were the 14 American amateur boxers, most in their teens and taking their first trip out of the United States, who were traveling with six coaches and an aide to attend televised matches in Katowice, Poland. The boxers were preparing for the upcoming Olympic trials (later the United States would boycott the 1980 Moscow Olympics because of the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan). The team was led by Coach Tom “Sarge” Johnson, who had helped the 1976 U.S. Olympic boxing team 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; he would have been the favorite for the Olympic gold medal. Also aboard the plane were a prominent anthropologist, Dr. Alan Merriam, and the Polish singer Anna Jantar. A future light-heavyweight champion of the world, Bobby Czyz, was fortunate not to be on the flight. The Polish American boxer was a member of the U.S. boxing team and had been scheduled to make the trip, but had cancelled when he was injured in a car accident just days before team’s departure. "

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    Re: 30 Years Since Plane Crash in Warsaw Carrying Olympians Boxers

    Paul Palomino, brother of Carlos Palomino was also on the flight with Junior Roble and Byron Lindsay, all three will be inducted, posthumous, into the California Boxing Hall of Fame on June 26 2010.

    2 streets named for coach, boxer

    By David Berlin
    February 21, 2008

    NATIONAL CITY – After decades of red tape zoning loopholes and a little finesse two streets this week were named this week after for National City boxing coach Yrenio "Junior" Robles and boxer Byron Lindsay who died in a plane crash in Poland 28 years ago.

    National City Councilman Luis Natividad and consultant Augie Baréño, longtime friends of Robles, spearheaded the effort.

    “A street is forever,” Baréño said. “It's a symbol. Junior and Byron gave their all to the community and their legacy lives on forever.”

    Robles and Lindsay were part of a U.S. amateur boxing team that was traveling to Poland for bouts with the Polish team. Their plane, with 87 people aboard, crashed on March 14, 1980, as it approached Warsaw's Okecie airport. All 87 people aboard, including the 14 boxers and eight officials of the U.S. team, were killed.

    Tuesday, Robles' and Lindsay's families and friends, National City Mayor Ron Morrison and other city officials and dignitaries gathered at the new Pacific Scene Homes housing development near Rachael Avenue and Blueridge Street in National City to unveil the new signs.

    “This is a blessing,” said Lindsay's mother, Venoria Lindsay, when the street signs reading Junior Robles Road and Byron Lindsay Way were revealed. The honor was long overdue, said Baréño, 60.

    “Every time we had a new city councilman we brought up the idea,” he said. “We've probably had 10 of them in the last 30 years and each one would try and then get turned down.”

    Almost everyone in attendance had a story about Robles and Lindsay.

    “Everybody knew Junior,” said Natividad, 65. In addition to being a professional boxer, Robles founded or was involved in many athletic events in South County during the 1970s.

    “The only running in the barrio used to be gangs running from police,” Natividad joked. “Then Robles founded the Barrio Run (which went across the San Diego-Coronado Bridge), and all of a sudden, people from all over San Diego were coming just to run in the race.”

    Robles and Natividad founded a Sunday softball league in which gang members and police officers played each other. Robles frequently visited high school principals, rounding up troubled students to bring to boxing gyms, Baréño said.

    “He used the gyms to get kids out of trouble and put their energy into more positive things,” Natividad said.

    David Soliven, a district attorney investigator, was one of those youths.

    “I was about 12 at the time and I could have gone either way, towards a gang or the good side. Junior introduced me to boxing and I got so into it and that was it,” Soliven said. “Junior used to make us breakfast and drive us to school. He was really like a second father.”

    Lindsay might have been Robles' greatest protege, but Robles never told him how great he was going to be, Natividad said.

    “He would only concentrate on the next fight,” he said.

    “Lindsay was the real symbol for all the youth,” Baréño added. “Kids can still look at the success Lindsay had as a boxer and look up to that.”

    A photo of Robles and Lindsay hangs prominently at the Community Youth Athletic Center on National City Boulevard, watching over a new generation of boxing students.

    Baréño said Robles was the first person to convince high schools to open up their gyms to the community.

    “Nobody would say no to him,” he said. “People responded to Junior. He had a way of capturing all the existing energy of the community back then.”

    “Everyone knew who he was,” Natividad said. “So if you were acting up, you saw him and nobody would do anything if Junior was there.”

    But Natividad said he hated to be around Robles when he was boxing.

    “He was so focused he didn't pay any attention to me,” he said. “We went out and had all this fun, but when he started boxing he was so serious.”

    The deaths of Robles and Lindsay were a tremendous loss for the community, Natividad said.

    “I remember seeing it on TV and I sat down in the kitchen with my wife and we just cried. It was very tough,” he said. “Doing this will hopefully make things right.”

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    Re: 30 Years Since Plane Crash in Warsaw Carrying Olympians Boxers

    I remember the plane crash well and am still saddened when I think about it.
    "Sarge" was an icon here in Indy and had helped to jumpstart Marvin Johnson's career among others.

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    Re: 30 Years Since Plane Crash in Warsaw Carrying Olympians Boxers

    I aiways thought it was Tony Tucker that arrived too late to get on the plane, not Jimmy Clarke?


    As for Davey Armstrong from the amateur fights I have of his he looked a serious talent.

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    Re: 30 Years Since Plane Crash in Warsaw Carrying Olympians Boxers

    Heard alot about Lemuel Steeples and Andre McCoy from that time.

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    Re: 30 Years Since Plane Crash in Warsaw Carrying Olympians Boxers

    I could never forget. "Down but not out, gone but not forgotten". March 14, 1980 changed my life at a very young age, I would never view life or death the same again. See George Pimentel was more than a boxer or an inspiration or a father figure to me he was my Loving Bother. I will miss you always.

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    Re: 30 Years Since Plane Crash in Warsaw Carrying Olympians Boxers

    bump.

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