By JOHN ROMANO
© St. Petersburg Times, published September 14, 2000
SYDNEY, Australia -- The day before the Olympic boxing draw was announced, Jeff Lacy said he had little interest in where he landed in the bracket. He would come across the best, he said, sooner or later.
Turns out, it will be sooner.
The draw was announced late Wednesday evening and the St. Petersburg boxer landed in the stronger half of the bracket.
If he gets past his first two bouts, Lacy could face reigning world champion Utkirbek Haydarov of Uzbekistan in the quarterfinals, then 1997 world champion Zsolt Erdei of Hungary in the semifinals.
The bottom half of the draw appears to be much weaker, with Cuba's Jorge Gutierrez as the leading contender. Gutierrez replaces Cuba's Ariel Hernandez, the two-time defending Olympic champion.
The way the bracket breaks down, Lacy could conceivably face the three biggest names in the middleweight class if he reaches the gold-medal bout.
Lacy drew Brazil's Cleiton Conceicao in the first bout.
"I don't think Jeff's draw in the first bout is too tough ... it's not a guy you know is going to be difficult," USA Boxing coach Tom Mustin said. "Usually people will have the jitters and will not be real comfortable in that first bout. So if we can get past that, get him comfortable, maybe we can get him on a roll.
"But I'm not looking past the first bout for him or anyone else."
The brackets are established by a random draw with no emphasis on world rankings coming into the Olympics.
"I don't want to pay attention to how my weight class is set," Lacy said before the draw. "If I spend too much time worrying about one opponent, I might get caught by surprise. My plan is to just stay in shape and do my thing when it's my time to get in the ring."
The most highly anticipated bout of the Olympics could arrive long before the gold medal round.
Cuba's Felix Savon and American Michael Bennett would meet in the quarterfinals of the heavyweight class if both get past the first round. Bennett is the reigning world champion and Savon is a two-time Olympic gold medalist. They did not meet in last year's World Championships because Savon withdrew in protest over a decision that went against a Cuban boxer in a lower weight class.
Mustin said Bennett and other U.S. boxers have been showing signs of pressure, and the heavyweight draw will not help.
"If I had my druthers, Michael would have had a chance to get a few more bouts under his belt, but it didn't happen that way," Mustin said. "Hopefully he'll get past his first bout and we'll have time to study Savon's tapes."