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American teenagers cruise

No drama, no flourishes, no problem.

Handed the anxiety-filled role of kicking off the U.S. boxing team's Olympic journey, teenagers Fernando Vargas and Zahir Raheem cruised to clear first-round victories Saturday afternoon before 8,586 at Alexander Memorial Coliseum.

Neither Vargas, from Oxnard, Calif., nor Raheem, from Philadelphia, sounded particularly pleased by his winning performance, but both were relieved that they had averted instant American disaster.

"We both wanted to start it off right; everybody wanted to see us win, especially our teammates," Vargas said after his 10-4 welterweight victory over awkward left-hander Tengiz Meskhadze of Georgia.

"We knew if one of us lost, or if both of us lost, then they'd all be thinking, "God, am I going to be next?'


Vargas traditionally is a slow starter but started even more slowly than usual Saturday because he didn't know Meskhadze was left-handed until moments before the bout. Vargas, 18, looked tentative and threw few punches until the final minute of the first round.

"The European style is awkward for me, but I was able to pick my shots little by little," Vargas said. "I always start off slow like that, I don't know why.

"I'm more of a pro-style fighter, I can feel it. And I can't wait to be wearing the Olympic gold medal around my neck and going into the pros."

But with his teammates and many friends and family members in the audience _ and a wildly pro-U.S. crowd _ Vargas landed two overhand rights and a left hook to take a 3-1 lead heading into the second round.

By the end of the second, Vargas had pulled to an 8-3 lead, finding the range with counter-punching left hooks that banged off of Meskhadze's face.

In contrast to Vargas, Raheem, a 19-year-old bantamweight, took a fast 9-1 first-round lead over Korean Jong Gil Hoe, then said he simply could not keep up the pace.

Kehinde Aweda's moment of Olympic glory was short-lived.

Despite getting battered for three rounds by Khurshed Khasanov of Tajikistan in an opening-round 119-pound bout Saturday night, the Nigerian fighter was declared the winner by the ringside announcer.

The referee raised Aweda's hand in victory and he celebrated by jumping up and down in jubilation and disbelief.

But the announcer had the wrong fighter winning.

No sooner had Aweda returned to his corner to share his jubilation with his cornermen than officials realized the mistake and declared Khasanov the winner by a 20-10 score.