RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Nico Hernandez had a gnarly gash over his left eye that left him bloodied, with blurred vision and in need of stitches.
He has a better look in mind for Sunday.
Hernandez will leave the Rio Games with a bronze medal in the light flyweight division, ending a medal drought for the U.S. that stretched to 2008. He’s also the first American light flyweight to medal since Michael Carbajal won silver in 1988.
Hernandez’s chance for a gold medal ended Friday when he lost to Uzbekistan’s Hasanboy Dusmatov by unanimous decision. He’ll stay through Sunday’s final and will then be decorated in bronze on the medal stand.
“We said when we get there, we’re going to medal,” Hernandez said. “We’re finally here.”
Andre Ward in 2004 was the last American male to win a gold medal in boxing. Deontay Wilder won the bronze in 2008 and the American men had an embarrassing medal-free trip to London four years ago.
Hernandez, 20 years old and out of Wichita, Kansas, tried to win one more shocker and advance to the gold-medal bout. Hernandez had pulled off one of the biggest upsets of the Olympics’ first three days on Monday night with a unanimous decision over Russia’s Vasilii Egorov, the European champion and runner-up at last year’s world championships.
Dusmatov, a clever left-hander, got in enough shots over the first two rounds to win 30-27 and 29-28 on two cards.
“I should have been a little more wild instead of picking my shots from the outside,” Hernandez said.
U.S coach Billy Walsh said he thought Hernandez could have done enough to steal a win.
“I thought we had a chance,” Walsh said.
With good reason. The Americans had been one of the surprises of the tournament with a 6-1 record into Friday. The run stalled on Friday when Carlos Balderas followed Hernandez and lost to Cuban 2012 Olympic bronze medalist Lazaro Alvarez by unanimous decision in a lightweight bout.
Hernandez, who rooms with Balderas, had two friends and his mother and father in the stands.
“It was motivation for me seeing them in the crowd and hearing their voices,” he said, “but I didn’t want to lose in front of them.”
He complained of blurred vision after he was busted open late in the second round, blood streaming down his face, though the result was all but decided at that point.
“I let it get way too close,” he said.
Hernandez restored some of the pride in the American program that was reeling following the London shutout. The nine-man American team won only five fights in London and failed to win any medals for the first time. This year’s six-man U.S. team already has six wins with more bouts ahead.
In 2012, Errol Spence was the only American man even to reach the Olympic quarterfinals by winning two bouts.
Balderas’ run ended because he said he was tired and wasted too much energy in the first round chasing Alvarez. He was also worn down from a bruising first fight on Tuesday against Japan’s Daisuke Narimatsu.
“I told my coach in the back when I was warming up that my body felt shut down,” Balderas said.
The American medal push isn’t over. Flyweight Antonio Vargas fights Saturday and bantamweight Shakur Stevenson goes on Sunday. Light welterweight Gary Russell tries to go 2-0 on Sunday after a sharp win in his opening bout.
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