In 1962, a child who would enter the country’s sporting history with an indelible mark was born in La Romana, two years before the first participation of the Dominican Republic in the Olympics represented by Alberto Torres in track and field.
One of five brothers, all of them boxers, Pedro Julio Nolasco adopted the sport of gloved fists from an early age, under the training of Victor Pascual in the Papagayo Club. In fact, he became part of the national team while still an adolescent. At 22, the boy from La Romana became the first Olympic medalist in the country, in the 1984 Los Angeles Games.
“He was a very technical boxer, he relied on great up and down combinations and defeated any opponent easily,” recalls Pascual, who at 72, has lost his eyesight from diabetes, but shows a big smile every time the name of his pupil is mentioned.
“I was his first trainer. He began boxing around the age of 14,” he adds. “I’ve always liked technical boxing and taught him how to protect and defend himself. He was very intelligent and always listened to me.”
Pascual remembers how Nolasco trained hard, two hours a day for two consecutive years, before having his first chance to join the National Team.
His first significant international event was the 1978 Central American and Caribbean Games in Medellín, where he won the silver medal at just 16 years of age.
“Early on, Pedro Julio showed the kind of man he would become, a ‘no problem’ type of athlete,” recalls the then-president of the Dominican Boxing Federation, Bienvenido Solano. “He was a hard-working and eager kid in the ring. He was disciplined, and had no problems with the instructions he received.”
A year later, Nolasco took part in the Pan American Games held in San Juan, Puerto Rico. There, competing in the 112-pound flyweight, he offered an excellent representation of the tricolor flag. In his first match against Brazilian contender Antonio Toledo, he won by points, and did the same with Colombian Jorge Rodríguez. On facing American Jerome Coffee, Nolasco assured the bronze medal by winning by score, and moved toward the fight for the gold. In that clash with local athlete Alberto Mercado, he was defeated in a close fight, which was defined by the votes of the judges, settling for silver.
The fighter returned to represent the country in the Caracas 1983 Pan American Games, but in a slightly higher category under the 118-pound bantamweight. Once more, the Dominican boxer had a brilliant performance and advanced to fight for the gold against another local, Venezuelan Manuel Vílchez. Again, he lost by points and had to settle for the silver.
The absence of Cuba at the Los Angeles Olympic Games, a year later, placed Nolasco in an advantageous position. The young man arrived with chances of winning a medal, given the absence of the Cubans, who did not attend as a political retaliation against the Americans for a previous Soviet boycott. This was a tremendous opportunity as the Caribbean nation had dominated at will the lower weight categories in boxing in the last four games.
Victor Pascual’s pupil knew he had chances, mainly for his embattled attack, his solid punch and defense to avoid blows from his rivals.
This was demonstrated when he defeated Yugoslav opponent Ljubiša Simić, the Ugandan John Siryakibbe and Puerto Rican John John Molina. In the fight for the bronze, Nolasco wasted no time, and with a sharp attack he beat South Korean Sung-Kil Moon to exhaustion in a match that was soon defined, and was stopped by the referee in the understanding that the Asian could no longer continue. That decision represented the first great Olympic achievement of the country, an assured bronze.
According to a chronicle by journalist Temístocles Metz, on August 9TH, 1984, in the Última Hora evening paper, amid the confusion of applause and tears of joy, Nolasco intermingled for more than three hours with all those present, although he was scheduled to compete against Italian Maurizio Stecca the following day, on his path to fight for the gold.
It was 11:00 am, Pacific Time, when Nolasco entered the ring in search for the historical victory, but failed in his attempt against Stecca with a 5-0 decision. Upon admitting his defeat, he described Stecca as a tough fighter and recognized that he was not able to decipher his fighting style.
According the president of the federation, Bienvenido Solano, and Delegate Mario Rafael Pagán, the defeat was attributed to the fact that the Dominican fighter lost the first and last rounds by modifying his fighting style.
But Nolasco’s bronze medal was celebrated in full as Dominican Republic’s first. The nation welcomed him as a sports hero. “The country felt a great joy and gave him several awards, many interviews and he was given the place he deserved,” recalls Pascual.
Former Sports Minister Dr. Luis Scheker recalls the importance of Nolasco’s achievement. “For the government, this was a great achievement. President [Salvador] Jorge Blanco was very happy with this medal and awarded him an apartment, which was not something usual at that time,” said Scheker.
“HE WAS NOT ONLY THE SYMBOL OF BOXING, ALSO OF DOMINICAN SPORTS””
Two years after his Olympic medal, and after registering a record 173 amateur wins and 18 losses, Nolasco turned pro, experiencing a short career with mixed results.
In 11 professional fights, he had a 5-6 record and his last fight was precisely facing Italian Maurizio Stecca, against whom he lost at the Los Angeles Games. Nolasco withdrew from the match in the middle of a pause between rounds, and never again entered into a ring.
On September 15, 1995, during an attempted robbery at his home, the boxer was shot and killed. He was only 33 years old.
“Not only was he the symbol of boxing, but of Dominican sports, because he was the only Olympic medalist of the country,” stated Bienvenido Solano. “It was a terrible loss for the Dominican Republic. Besides the fact that he was a very young man, we lost a sporting glory, we lost an idol.”