TOKYO – Podium protests are rare at the Olympics, but few are less likely than an athlete protesting against himself.
British boxer Ben Whittaker was so disappointed in his silver medal in Wednesday’s light heavyweight final that he refused to wear it, fearing it would make him look like a loser to his compatriots at home.
When his name was announced in the Tokyo arena, Whittaker reluctantly stepped onto the podium with his hands in his pockets and looked at the ground the entire time.
When he accepted the silver medal, he carefully folded the ribbon around it and put it in his pocket while the gold was presented to two-time champion Arlen López of Cuba.
“I really woke up this morning thinking it was my time,” Whittaker told reporters.
“And I felt like a failure, so I couldn’t celebrate the silver at the time and I don’t think I can do it yet.”
Whittaker did not wear the medal during the victory ceremony. After exiting the arena, a team official whispered to him under his breath and put it around his neck before meeting a waiting phalanx of media.
“Everyone at home, I try to do it for them,” he said. “I should have taken it on the chin and put the beautiful silver medal around my neck and just smiled.
“I’m a winner at the end of the day … That’s me, it has been instilled in me since I was a child.”
Whittaker fought with passion and determination, but lacked the composure of the Cuban, who won gold for the second Olympiad in a row.
The 24-year-old Briton, who is considering running for mayor of the English city of Wolverhampton, said Lopez was definitely the better fighter and he didn’t want to disrespect him.
“It is his moment and I would never want to take the shine off it, but it hurt a lot and I felt ashamed, really,” he said.
“A couple of years after this, I’ll look back and say ‘what was I doing’?”
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