Paris 2024 Olympic Games: 60 years ago, the lightning bolt of Narbonne boxer Jo Gonzales, aka “Jo la Foudre”, at the Tokyo Games

Paris 2024 Olympic Games: 60 years ago, the lightning bolt of Narbonne boxer Jo Gonzales, aka “Jo la Foudre”, at the Tokyo Games

Jo Gonzales, fier et heureux de porter la flamme lors du relais olympique, le 16 mai dernier à Narbonne. Independant – CHRISTOPHE BARREAU

Silver medalist in Japan in 1964, bearer of the flame last May, Jo Gonzales tells, at 82, how the Games changed his life.

The black and white image seems to come straight from another era or a parallel universe. Surrounded by Marcel Cerdan Junior, Mireille Darc, Maurice Chevalier and Régine, this December 29, 1964 at the Club de l’Etoile, Jo Gonzales celebrates his silver medal won a few months earlier at the Games from Tokyo. The Narbonnais exudes the shadowy charisma of an actor and conveys the same brilliance as these stars. A nostalgic glow on this era when boxing remained a noble art in the collective unconscious.

"I was fighting with everyone"

60 years later, Joseph likes to tell, with a greedy look, how, between outbursts and punches, he forged a passage towards this world of light where no place seemed reserved for it. Son of a Spanish immigrant working in the vineyards, certainly the most turbulent of the six children, he concedes: "I fought with everyone to everything and for nothing…"

In the land of rugby, he would be a boxer… Spotted by Maurice Graves, president of the Narbonne Boxing Club, these apprentice baker's hands will be kneaded on Rue de l'Etoile to win the Olympic moon.“He took really good care of me and employed me in his mirror business”.

Dalida's kiss, De Gaulle's medal

At 16, Jo cultivated, fight after fight, his reputation as a true left-handed hitter which opened the doors to the National Institute of Sports in Paris and a dazzling career among amateurs.

Paris 2024 Olympic Games: 60 years ago, the lightning bolt of Narbonne boxer Jo Gonzales, aka “Jo la Foudre”, at the Tokyo Games

Jo Gonzales (left) during a professional fight against American Art Hernandez in 1967. MAXPPP – Keystone Pictures USA

104 victories before the limit for this pure puncher

« I was a real hitter, I hit hard with the left, that's for sure. It doesn't take many words for Jo Gonzales to display what was his strong point: punching qualities that make him one of the most formidable finishers of his generation.

The statistics speak for themselves: 76 fights fought among amateurs for 74 victories, including 64 before the limit. Three times French champion, vice-world military super welterweight champion, the Narbonnais will also win the gold medal at the Friendship Games then Olympic silver in Tokyo before starting a career with professionals.

Two European Championships lost

Here again, the statistics will reflect his power with, in 52 fights, from 1964 to 1971, 40 victories, all before the limit, 2 draws but also 10 defeats, including two by knockout. Two new French championship titles will complete this career among the pros as well as two defeats during European championships, each time against Italian rivals who boxed at home: Sandro Mazzinghi in 1967 and Remo Golfarini in 1968.

High point, these Tokyo Olympics, in 1964, where he only failed in the super welterweight final against the terror of the time, the Russian Boris Lagutine who would be crowned again four years later in Mexico. "I had no regrets, remembers the Narbonnais man. One of the judges still gave me the winner on points. But even when beaten in the final, this medal propelled me to the forefront."

With only 15 medals including one in gold and 8 in silver, France hardly shone, then, on the Olympic rings. Dalida's kiss to Jo, upon his descent from the Japanese ring, will fuel the newspapers of the time before a reception by General de Gaulle in person who will make him Knight of the National Order of Merit.< /p>

Paris 2024 Olympic Games: 60 years ago, the lightning bolt of Narbonne boxer Jo Gonzales, aka “Jo la Foudre”, at the Tokyo Games

Jo Gonzales happy to show off his silver medal, stolen in 1970 and of which the IOC gave him a replica in 2015. Midi Libre – Richard Gougis

A medal stolen then remade by the IOC

Having your Olympic medal stolen. There is probably no worse mishap for a former champion. This is what happened to Jo Gonzales in 1970, just six years after his Olympic podium.

"We had opened our restaurant in Narbonne two years before but we were only there in season, says Jeannine Gonzales. The medal was in an unlocked display case. Friends and regulars could admire it. And one fine day, she disappeared."

Years of Fighting

Then begins a long quest which will require a lot of time and energy from the champion's wife: requesting a replica of the medal from the International Olympic Committee. "I knew that they had a copy of this medal in their museum in Lausanne and that it was possible to make a copy."

A request that would remain a dead letter for about forty years. And then, in 2015, Jeannine's determination would be rewarded by the award of this famous replica that once again sits in the display case. And that Jo Gonzales is proud to show to journalists and visitors.

Medals, trophies and belts sleep there, in a small display case that sits in the heart of their sober and spacious apartment in Narbonne. Jo enjoys displaying them, as if going back in time. The eye remains sharp but the memory sometimes misses a switch. At his side, Jeanine, his wife of 61 years, corrects a date, specifies an anecdote, she who shared everything with him. Including the life of restaurateurs, in Narbonne, after a career that will keep a taste of unfinished business in the merciless world of professional boxing. Two European championships lost like so many doors closed on the chances of one day competing in a world championship.

Sugar Ray Robinson's visit to the locker room

Consolation ? Without doubt this comforting visit to a defeated locker room, in Rome, from one of his idols, Sugar Ray Robinson, & ;quot;the greatest of all time with Cassius Clay".

Boxing today’nbsp;? "It has not fundamentally changed but it is less well regarded", regrets Jo. The flame is intact. Jo almost ran to carry it proudly when it passed through Narbonne on May 16. "A fervor and the pleasure of seeing that people still think of me."

At almost 83 years old, he will watch the Paris Games in front of his TV, despite the two invitations offered by the French boxing federation. "Life Parisian city is no longer made for us", laughs Jeannine. But she brought them so many beautiful memories…hellip;

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