Cameroon won gold at the Sydney Olympics 20 years ago
Geremi was captain of the Indomitable Lions at the time
Former player shares his memories with FIFA.com
Twenty years ago to the day, the Indomitable Lions achieved one of the greatest feats in the history of Cameroonian sport by beating Spain in the final of the Men’s Olympic Football Tournament Sydney 2000 (2-2, 5-3 PSO) to secure the country’s first Olympic gold medal.
This priceless accolade has a special place in Geremi’s trophy cabinet, where it sits alongside a host of other impressive silverware. Among the Cameroonian’s medals are those of two CAF Africa Cup of Nations triumphs (2000 and 2002), Spain’s La Liga and England’s Premiership (with Real Madrid and Chelsea respectively), as well as two UEFA Champions League titles with the former.
In conversation with FIFA.com, the former midfielder and Cameroon captain, who is now a FIFA Legend, looks back with nostalgia on that historic Olympic title.
FIFA.com: Geremi, what images spring to mind when you think about your country’s triumph at the Olympic Football Tournament Sydney 2000? Geremi: It awakens wonderful memories for me, the reminiscence of a magnificent surprise! We were just a bunch of carefree young guys who went to Australia to compete in a competition with no real ambition. As the tournament progressed, the idea that we could possibly achieve something slowly formulated, culminating in that joyful outcome. The first images that spring to mind are those of the medal ceremony. That’s the moment you realise you’re making history!
In Cameroon, is it considered the country’s greatest sporting achievement? One of the greatest. The excitement around it built to a crescendo. There was a big time difference between Australia and Cameroon, which didn’t make things any easier. To watch our games live on TV, people had to wake up very early in Cameroon. With each passing match, more and more people started following us and supporting us. So much so that, at one point, it seemed as if the entire country had changed their daily routine: people went to work very early, went to bed early, and got up at dawn to follow our exploits!
Among Cameroon’s all-time great performances must be the Indomitable Lions’ run to the quarter-finals of the 1990 FIFA World Cup™. If you had to choose, would you prefer to have been part of that historic adventure? It was indeed a great performance, not just for Cameroon, but for the whole of Africa. It was the first time that a country from our continent had reached that stage of the competition. I even cried in front of my TV as a kid. But there was no title at the end of that campaign, even if we’d given a very honourable account of ourselves. And history remembers winners above all else.
Although you’re among your country’s most successful players, does that Olympic medal have a special place in your heart? Every one of my titles has its own story. They all helped shape the player I was – from the smallest trophy I won as a kid, to the most prestigious ones that came at the peak of my career. They’re all equally important, as they’re a measure of the work I put in on the pitch and the rewards that came from it. They’re like my children… and you don’t love one child more than another, do you? No! It’s the same with titles.
Do you remember the atmosphere on 30 September 2000 generated by that crowd of more than 100,000 spectators at Sydney’s Olympic Stadium? Of course, it was awesome! I remember it all the more because those 100,000 people played a major role in our victory. We were 2-0 down at the break but when we began our comeback, the crowd really got behind us. And it wasn’t just the Cameroonian fans that we were used to seeing whenever the national team played, the crowd in general had an affection for us and were cheering us on despite the stifling heat. I said to myself, “Wow, they must really appreciate what we’re doing”.
Why is participating in the Olympic Games such a special moment in a footballer’s career? It’s one of the biggest sporting competitions. There’s nothing else that brings together so many different athletes from all walks of life at the same time. And it’s precisely this which makes the event magical when you’re involved – the possibility to be among all the other athletes in the Olympic Village, to be able to share experiences together, to be able to have lunch next to a famous judoka, basketball star, fencing champion or whoever. It’s a unique experience.
Were there any particular encounters that stayed with you? Yes, one with Serena Williams. She’d become passionate about our team and even played wearing our colours! She wanted to meet us, and I, as captain, got to play the role of ambassador. I also met the long-distance runner Haile Gebrselassie and basketball player Yao Ming. When I first saw him, he was playing pool and bent over double trying to take a shot. When he stood up after it, I thought I was seeing things! I’d never seen anyone so tall before! I had admiration for all those athletes, and I think we won theirs by winning the gold medal.
Especially given the anguish you all went through in order to win that medal. Almost all of your games were really hard fought, and there were several comebacks with victories snatched in extra time or on penalties. We really didn’t go there with the ambition of winning gold. That’s what’s curious! In a sense, that may also have helped us. There was no pressure on us or complexes to deal with; we played with freedom. We were a group of carefree young guys who supported each other and got along really well. And in a competition like this, the quality of the group atmosphere is fundamental. We got along very well off the pitch, so we then had an intuitive understanding on it. We won this gold medal on the pitch, but the foundations of those victories were built elsewhere. We were a family, a real team.
That said, there were some big personalities in this team: Samuel Eto’o, Pierre Wome, Lauren, Carlos Kameni… At that time, they didn’t have those strong personalities! It was only later that they grew in stature, as was the case with me. At that time, we were just kids who wanted to play together and have fun without any other obligations. We just wanted to enjoy the moment. We had a united group and that was reflected on the pitch.
Which was the hardest game? All the matches were hard-fought. Almost every time we had to come from behind and draw on our reserves. From Kuwait to Spain via Brazil and Chile, our whole journey was arduous… We were teenagers, but we fought like grown men. We showed guts in our quest for that medal.
You scored one of the penalties during the shootout in the final. Do you remember that moment? I’ve always taken responsibility for penalties during my career. Before a spot kick, especially one like that, every player will tell you there’s pressure: if you score, your whole country celebrates victory, and vice versa! You have to fill that void and control your emotions. And I had this ability to concentrate – I was mentally strong. A penalty is all in the head, not in the legs! You don’t have to be that technically good to score one.
How did you celebrate winning gold? You can imagine the party we had when we came home! Huge crowds were waiting for us at the airport, and the streets were crammed with supporters. We were received by the head of state in person. We were heroes.
There’ll be no Indomitable Lionsat the next Olympic Tournament on the men’s side, however the women’s side still have a chance to qualify. Are you going to watch the competition? Obviously! You watch the tournament and say, “I’ve been through this too”. There’s always emotion but, more than nostalgia, it’s joy. I love seeing the medals being awarded as it takes me hopelessly back a few years. Twenty years to be precise!
Gervonta Davis vs. Leo Santa Cruz: Fight prediction, card, odds, preview, how to watch, start time, PPV price
The most intriguing aspect of Saturday’s pay-per-view bout in San Antonio between unbeaten Gervonta “Tank” Davis and four-division champion Leo Santa Cruz — and the result that could have the most bearing upon on how experts handicap the 130-pound bout — remains whether Davis will comfortably make weight.
Davis (23-0, 22 KOs), the power-punching southpaw who will put his secondary WBA title at 135 pounds at stake against Santa Cruz’s WBA junior lightweight belt, has endured consistent troubles in recent years on the scale regardless of which division he has competed in. In fact, Davis once lost his 130-pound title on the scales in 2017 ahead of his biggest fight to date as the co-main event on the Floyd Mayweather-Conor McGregor card.
The 25-year-old Davis will be moving back down to junior lightweight when he steps foot inside the ring at the Alamodome (Showtime PPV, 9 p.m. ET) where a limited crowd of 11,500 is expected to show up while maintaining social distancing policies. Yet each time he has faced the media in recent weeks, Davis has made sure to make one thing clear.
“Gervonta Davis will definitely make the weight,” Davis said. “This camp has been great for me. I’m already at weight. I’m not big and just have been working hard. Our camp is not worrying about weight, our camp is about Leo Santa Cruz and giving him a great fight. That’s what we worry about and getting them big checks.”
Although Santa Cruz (37-1-1, 19 KOs) has had just one fight at junior lightweight — outpointing Miguel Flores last November to win the vacant title after previously doing his best work at featherweight — he was willing to take the risk of moving up one division higher against one of the sport’s biggest punchers because of a potential weakness he believes he can expose.
“Tank Davis is strong the first five rounds. I know he’s also dangerous in every round, but I think the more dangerous rounds will be 1-6 where he will have the most power,” Santa Cruz said. “But if I see him gassing out, I am going to pressure him and make him tired.”
When Santa Cruz, 32, first presented the idea of fighting Davis to his co-trainers, brother Antonio and father Jose, the family talked about his need to fight smart. Santa Cruz believes he will need “to fight a perfect fight” but hasn’t ruled out the potential of standing toe-to-toe against Davis and utilizing his pressure style.
“We have to fight from the outside because we know Tank could hit and if he catches me, he could hurt me,” Santa Cruz said. “We are going to try to box 12 rounds, but you know me. We want to give the fans an exciting fight so if I feel I can take his punches, we are going to stand there and make it a fight. But if I see he can hurt me, I am going to be smart and try and make it the full 12 rounds.”
Santa Cruz brought in bigger sparring partners, both junior welterweights and welterweights, to prepare for Davis’ punishing style. He also worked his neck muscles extra in hopes he can withstand the power.
Although Santa Cruz has hovered around the top 10 of the pound-for-pound rankings for years, particularly from his pair of two-fight series against Carl Frampton and Abner Mares, he believes a victory over Davis would land him a permanent spot, mostly because opponents have been going out of their way not to fight him.
The problem for Davis, and maybe part of the reason he has yet to garner much P4P recognition, is that he has largely blown away his competition before being able to showcase how smart of a fighter he is and how well he can adjust and box. Only one opponent — veteran German Meraz in 2014 — has proved able to go the distance against Davis and that fight was just a six-round bout.
“Most of them don’t last until the second part of the fight. They all go down 1-6 or probably seven,” Davis said. “As we know, [Jose] Pedraza came out with the pressure and got stopped in the 7th round. They can say whatever they want but they have to prove it once we get in there.”
So how much does Davis have in him that has yet to be shown inside the ring? The answer, according to the fighter, is “a lot.” And there’s some belief that Santa Cruz may be perfectly skilled and tough enough to force him to show it.
“I think that Leo is going to bring the best out of me,” Davis said. “We just have to wait and see. I have been working hard each and every day sparring bigger and smaller guys just to prepare myself all around the board for Leo. We know he is coming to fight. I don’t know how much [of my power] he will be able to take until we get in there.”
This four-fight PPV event has something for everyone. WBA junior welterweight champion Mario Barrios is back in the co-main event when he puts his title on the line against Ryan Karl. Before that, former unified junior welterweight champion Regis Prograis is back in his first action since dropping the belts when he faces Juan Heraldez. Prograis has been out for a fully year since losing a majority decision to Josh Taylor in the World Boxing Super Series final at 140 pounds last October. Plus, veteran Diego Magdaleno is back when he opens the PPV against Isaac Cruz in a lightweight contest.
Expect the first five rounds to dictate completely whether Santa Cruz has a chance to win this fight. If he can use his height and reach advantage to box from the outside and prove he’s durable enough to endure an expected early barrage, his chances of victory increase exponentially as things move closer to the championship rounds.
Davis has historically slowed down in the second half of fights but has typically been able to save himself — as he did in stopping former champion Yuriorkis Gamboa in the final round last December — by relying how his power shots. Should the fight remain competitive entering the final third of the bout on the scorecards, Davis’ work rate, or potential lack there of, could go a long way in deciding the winner considering Santa Cruz is a workhorse who relies on quantity to overcome his lack of power.
The big if, however, surrounds whether Santa Cruz has enough pop and can land both clean and effectively enough to stop Davis from simply walking him down. Santa Cruz can fight defensively responsible enough to win by boxing from the outside without sacrificing his high output, which he proved by redeeming a loss to Frampton in their sensational 2017 rematch.
That fight was against an elite featherweight in Frampton. Davis is a legitimate lightweight and has the kind of power that suggests he will rise much higher in weight and still be effective as his career rolls on. He has also been described to casual fans as “the Mike Tyson of the smaller weight divisions.”
For Santa Cruz to pull this off, he will need to show a level of toughness and durability against the kind of power he has yet to face in the professional ranks. Ultimately, how Davis ends up looking on the scale should play a big role in defining the outcome of the fight.
If Davis can listen to the advice of mentor and promoter Floyd Mayweather and come in at the best shape of his career and if his ability to box is as good as his ability to finish, this could end up being a short night at the office. If Tank is what’s advertised, this could be a spectacular debut on the PPV level.
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