Haiti may have a new hero after 76 years

Haiti has gone more than 75 years without an Olympic medal. A twist of fate could end the drought next month and turn Miami-born boxer Andre Berto into a national hero in a country where he has never set foot..

Article by: MICHELLE KAUFMAN - The Miami Herald

Berto, the son of Haitian parents and the No. 3-ranked welterweight in the world, said one of the most daunting tasks in his quest for Olympic gold is learning the lyrics to La Dessalinienne, Haiti's national anthem.

Until a few months ago, Berto was one of the top Olympic medal contenders for the United States.

The 20-year-old envisioned himself belting out The Star-Spangled Banner atop a medal podium from the time he began running three miles to the gym in elementary school.

Though his parents spoke Creole and served Haitian food at home, Berto felt every bit as American as his good friend, NBA player Tracy McGrady. And like McGrady, he dreamed of being an American sports star.

But a controversial disqualification from the U.S. Olympic trials in February squashed Berto's plans, leaving him to wonder if the countless blows to his body and the thousands of miles of jogging had been for naught.

''I was crushed,'' Berto said.

His father, Dieuseul, desperate to help, called the Haitian boxing federation and asked if it would welcome Andre, a dual citizen, if he qualified for the Athens Olympics.

The federation was overjoyed.

Haiti has won two Olympic medals, and none in 76 years.

The first was a bronze in 1924 in team free rifle, and the second was Silvio Cator's silver medal in the long jump in 1928.

Nobody has boxed for Haiti in the Olympics, so when Berto qualified under the Haitian flag at the Pan American pre-Olympic meet in Mexico, he became an instant hero.


The U.S. Olympic Committee, at the urging of the U.S. boxing
federation, signed a waiver allowing Berto to fight for Haiti even though he had competed internationally for the United States.

''We are very proud that this young man elected to represent Haiti at the Olympics, and he could have a tremendous impact on the youth of Haiti if they can see somebody win a medal under our flag,'' said Jean-Edouard Baker, president of the Haitian Olympic Committee.

"When it's all over, I'd like to bring Andre back to Haiti so he can see his heritage.''

Haiti is sending 10 athletes to the Olympics:

  • six in track and field,
  • two in judo,
  • one in tae kwon do
  • and Berto, who has the best chance to medal.

He was the only American boxer to win a medal
(bronze) at the 2003 World Championships
and is a two-time Golden Gloves national champion at 152 pounds.

''In a way, I see this as a blessing for the people of Haiti,'' Berto said. "Haiti needs a hero right now, and hopefully I can win a gold medal for them and give them something to be proud of. My dad went down there last month, and there were posters of me at gyms and the media was buzzing.

Even though I still feel American, this whole situation has allowed me to get closer to my roots and given me extra motivation.''

Berto knew from a young age that fighting was in his future.

Everywhere he turned in his house, somebody was punching, kicking or grappling.

His father is a kickboxer and Ultimate Fighter who
emigrated to Miami in 1980.

  • He delivered The Herald
  • and picked fruit when he arrived,
  • moved to Central Florida for better opportunities,
  • became a chef,
  • competed on the Ultimate Fighter circuit in Japan, and now runs a martial arts studio in Winter Haven.

One of Berto's older brothers, Cleveland, was a high school state champion wrestler and is on scholarship at the University of San Francisco.

Another, Edson, is an Ultimate Fighter.

His 15-year-old sister, Ravelina, is a wrestler and kickboxer.

His 9-year-old sister, Rachelle, does kickboxing and jujitsu.

The Berto kitchen doubled as a slapboxing ring.

''The only person who doesn't fight in my family is my mom,'' Berto said. "My dad looks real mean. When I was growing up, I thought he was Superman and my friends were afraid of him.

He was always working out and banging his shins with metal pipes to make them stronger. If I got in trouble in elementary school, he'd make me wake up at 5 in the morning and do 500 push-ups.

Once I started boxing, he made me run to the gym, and he'd tail me in his car and bump me if I wasn't
going fast enough.

"Kids used to call me `Forrest Gump' because I was always running.

Some people thought he was crazy, but he just wanted to see us excel and stay out of trouble.

So many Haitian kids who come to this country get caught up in American culture, which can mean drugs and alcohol and crime.

He wanted to make us an example, to show that immigrant kids from Haiti can become successful.''


Berto said he and McGrady were among the rare kids at the Citrus Center Boys Club who had long-range goals and who paid attention when guest speakers were brought in.

''So many of our friends are in jail or dead or doing nothing with their lives,'' said Berto, a student at Polk Community College. "I'm going to the Olympics. It's not exactly how I had planned, but I'm going, and I'm going to prove that you can't keep me down.''

It took five months, but Berto said he finally put the U.S. trials drama behind him. He was leading his first-round bout with 27 seconds left in the fourth round when he tossed opponent Juan McPherson to the canvas and was disqualified.

McPherson suffered a concussion. Berto said McPherson was holding him by the waist and should have been called for excessive holding.

Berto and his corner appealed, and he was reinstated. But the
decision was reversed, leaving him ineligible for the Olympics.

''It was an injustice, but everyone makes mistakes, so we have tried not to be bitter,'' Dieuseul Berto said. "What happened is a God-given gift to Haiti. I believe everything happens for a reason.''

Posted on Sun, Aug. 01, 2004 in the Miami Herald
Reprinted with written permission

Side note from Woodring Saint Preux

Thank you Mr Rene Godefroy for bring this article to my attention.

Thank you Michelle Kaufman of the Miami Herald for giving me the opportunity to share it with my readers.

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Topic says...

Wonderful article...

I am looking forward to reading and hearing more about this young man.


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