RIO DE JANEIRO: Boxing has always attracted characters with hard-luck stories, bad boys who earned redemption or fighters who beat the odds for shock glory.
But the disturbing story of Venezuela’s Olympic boxer Yoel Finol takes some beating.
He was lured into boxing by his brother-in-law Edwin Valero, a two-weight world champion professional who was to later end his career and life unbeaten with 27 wins, all by knock-out.
Valero taught Finol, now 19 and a winner on Monday in his second flyweight bout in Rio, his first punch and trained him.
Valero would even parade Finol through the rough streets of the Venezuelan city of Merida looking to get into fights “to become a man”.
And then, six years ago, Valero killed his own wife, who was Finol’s sister. He was locked up and two days later killed himself at age 28 and unbeaten as a pro.
Somehow Finol says he does not carry around hate for Valero, even though his tenacious displays at the Games suggest a burning within.
“I have forgiven him. Although he killed my sister, I forgave him,” said Finol, speaking in Rio.
“At first I did not understand why he did it. I felt anger, but I found God and learned to forgive him.”
Finol started boxing at age nine, encouraged by his uncle, and then by Valero.
“He taught me to throw punches, taught me the basics, and took me street-fighting to make me a man. He wanted me to become world champion and be my agent.”
But Valero’s life began to disintegrate in a blur of drugs and alcohol.
Then, on April 17, 2010, Valero stabbed Finol’s sister Carolina to death with three savage thrusts of a knife.
Two days later, Valero was found hanged in his jail cell.
Street fighting for money
“The drugs damaged him and changed him because he was not a bad person,” said Finol, displaying a maturity beyond his teenage years, underlined by the fact that he now cares for the tragic couple’s two young children.
“These things happen in life and only God knows why.”
Finol recalls how Valero would always tell him that the ultimate ambition was to be a professional world champion.
But after the trauma of six years ago Finol had a new dream — Olympic glory.
Finol’s journey to Rio was — predictably — a turbulent one.
He joined a boxing gym and scraped together funds by the only method he knew how: street fighting for money.
“The road is long and uphill, but I have taken the first step,” he said, crossing himself and looking to the sky in wonder.
“God took from me my dear sister and my brother-in-law Edwin, but he gave me something in return — to be better.”