San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Up Close: Costa Rica’s Boxing Elite

The faces of some of Costa Rica’s toughest amateur boxers, these seven are a sampling taken at their coach’srecommendation before the Central American Men’s and Women’s Boxing Championships and include the five gold medalwinners and, likely, some of the nation’s up-and-coming professional boxers and Olympic hopefuls. They are:MENLead by two of the men below – JuanGabriel Zúñiga and Mario Castillo – theCosta Rican men’s team took second placein the international tournament that includedall of Central America and Panama.Between work and study, these men managedto become some of the best internationalamateur boxers.Lucas AriasWeight: 81 kg (179 lbs)Class: HeavyweightAge: 23At Saturday’s champsionship,he lost by points toa Nicaraguan who eventuallytook the gold.Taking the bronze in hiscategory after an early defeat from the eventualwinner, Arias did not defend his title aslast year’s champion at the CentralAmerican Championship.“I didn’t fight my style,” he said. “I foughtthe way you do in real life, but if I would havefought the way I was trained he wouldn’thave won so easily. Next month, I’d like togo pro.”In other competitions, he earned a silvermedal at the Olympic Festival in Mexico Citylast year, and three gold medals and one silverin national fights. He plans to go pro thisyear. From Cartago, Arias is a bouncer at abar during his off-time.Mario CastilloWeight: More than 91 kg(200 lbs)Class: Super heavyweightAge: 31He won by a technicalknockout in the first roundin the championship’sfinals. During the match, hepunched his opponent out of the ring andhalfway down the stairs.“That medal has my name on it,” he saidbefore the fight.Taking the gold, Castillo brings 11 yearsof boxing experience to the ring, two previousgold medals in Central AmericanChampionships, two silver medals inCentral American and Caribbean championshipsand golds in “four or five” nationalcompetitions (he doesn’t remember).In his off-time, he is a bouncer at ClubColonial, teaches Tae Kwon Do and studiescomputer engineering and education.He started boxing competitively with agold medal win in El Salvador in 1994 andwas pleased to end his amateur experiencewith another gold. He plans to go professionalnext year.Marcos de la OsaWeight: 91 kg (200 lbs)Class: HeavyweightAge: 23De la Osa took the silverin his first internationalchampionship. This year,he lost the gold by points toa Nicaraguan.“I’m a little disappointed,” he said. “Iknow I could have beaten him. I’ll comeback next year.”He earned a gold medal in a nationalcompetition. From San José, he works in asportsbook (online gambling call center),studies business administration, and competesin kickboxing.Henry SalazarWeight: 69 kg (152 lbs)Class: MiddleweightAge: 21Salazar took the bronzein his category – his firstprize in an internationalcompetition.“He had more internationalexperience,” he said of his opponent.“Two months of training and I could beathim.”He is considering going pro this year.Salazar earned a gold medal in a nationalcompetition. From Guadalupe, Salazar studieselectronic engineering in his off-time.Juan GabrielZúñigaWeight: 64 kg (141 lbs)Class: MiddleweightAge: 22Taking the gold in hiscategory, Zúñiga defended his title with atechnical knockout in the third round, havingwon one gold medal in the Central AmericanChampionship last year.“I feel good,” he said. “I’m content forhaving achieved it again.”“My preparation took me far, and myteachers,” he said. “I have to thank the trainersin my corner – they told me what had tohappen and that helped a lot.”He also earned four gold medals andone silver in national championships. Thisyear, he is considering going pro. FromPuntarenas on the Pacific coast, Zúñiga hasboxed for six years and in his off-time heworks in sales.WOMENNeither national nor international competitionshave been available to women inCosta Rica until this year, when theyentered competition for the first time with thecoveted Central American Championship.These three all took gold medals and wonCosta Rica the first-place trophy in thewomen’s division.KatheleenO’ConnellWeight: 48 kg (106 lbs)Age: 19Experience: 6 years inboxingO’Connell took the firstwomen’s gold medal in thefirst women’s regionalchampionship with a technical knockout inthe first round .“I think it’s beautiful boxing in this country,”she said. “Eventually I hope to turn professional.”From the Southern Zone port town ofGolfito, O’Connell has trained for six years,and lately, in preparation for this competition,seven days per week. She has dual citizenshipin the United States and CostaRica.“I got into boxing by accident,” she said.“I was walking downtown (in Golfito), saw agym and the trainer called me in to practice.I tried it. I was 13 and from then on I havepracticed.”Beside winning the gold, O’Connell wasawarded the trophy for the most technicalfemale boxer for the number of technicalknockouts she doled out.“I feel great,” she said. “I’m going tokeep training, fight next year.”O’Connell is aiming for the 2008Olympics, after which she plans to box professionallyKarla RodríguezWeight: 70 kg (154 lbs)Age: 22Experience: 3 years inboxingTaking the gold medalin her category, Rodríguezsaid she will keep trainingand come back next year.From San José, Rodríguez has trainedin the city and with O’Connell in Golfito.“I was always interested in how boxerslooked – technique, strength,” she said. “SoI looked for a trainer.”Rodríguez said she normally fights menduring training because there aren’t a lot ofwomen in the sport.Martina AriasWeight: 60 kg (132 lbs)Age: 17Experience: 4 years inboxingTaking the gold medalin her category, Arias saidthe reason Costa Ricanwomen did so well wasbecause “we have more interest in the sportthan other girls, and we want to show thatCosta Rican girls are stronger.”From Escazú, Arias has always beeninvolved in sports, and since she was youngshe enjoyed this one.“It was always just a sport, I neverthought I would compete,” she said. “Myfamily has been extremely supportive. Mymother was nervous at first, but she isbehind me 100%.”Arias felt excellent after the fight, eventhough she hurt herself in the competition.“I injured my thumb, but did not let itkeep me from winning,” she said.Note: When a boxer turns “pro,” the personis able to accept money and sponsorshipsfor fighting. Once turning pro, theboxer is unable to return to amateur status.

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