Michael Parris: Guyana’s lone medallist at Moscow 1980

Moscow 1980 Olympic Games, Opening Ceremony - Parade of the delegations, Guyana (GUY).
Moscow 1980 Olympic Games, Opening Ceremony - Parade of the delegations, Guyana (GUY).

While winning an Olympic medal is a personal goal for thousands of athletes, for 24 nations it is a dream that has only ever come true once. Tokyo2020.org looks at the glorious moment and the impact it had on the lives of the athletes who achieved it.

The background

Guyana has a solitary Olympic medallist - boxer Michael Parris.

Born on 4 October 1957, Parris grew up in the country's capital Georgetown.

“Life growing up was a bit challenging with lots of ups and downs. My family was not rich, so we had to make do with the little we had but we were thankful for life," Parris told Kaieteur News, Guyana's leading news agency.

He came from a long line of boxers. His father and uncles used to box. It was a family tradition passed down to him and a few of his brothers.

“My brothers and I along with friends would practise boxing and one day our skills caught the eyes of an elderly man from the village and he said ‘why don’t you join a gym?'," said Parris.

"So, a little after that my brothers and I took his advice and joined the gym and from there I started off as an amateur boxer."

In 1972, a 15-year-old Parris won the Junior Amateur Championship in the featherweight division.

He continued to pursue various boxing competitions, winning some and losing some. Eventually, he was selected to represent Guyana in an exchange programme with the United States, where he ended up touring a few countries to represent his nation.

In 1978 at age 21, he took part in the Commonwealth Games losing in the quarter-finals. He was also selected to represent Guyana in the CAC Games in the Dominican Republic where he won a bronze medal.

Finally, he got selected to go to the Olympics.

History in the making

In 1980, Parris was 23.

That year, the United States led a boycott of the Moscow Olympic Games to protest the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

In total, 65 nations refused to participate but 80 countries sent athletes to compete at the Games including Guyana, who sent an eight-member team including four boxers, two cyclists, a track and field athlete, and a weightlifter.

“The climatic conditions in Moscow were different to what we were accustomed to but because of my ambition and determination to win at the Olympics I did not allow that to affect me," he recalled.

Competing in the bantamweight (-54 kg) division, Parris beat Nigerian Nureni Gbadamosi and Syrian Fayez Zaghloul before besting Mexican Daniel Zaragoza in the quarter-final. However, the semi-finals, he was beaten by Cuban Juan Hernandez in a very competitive bout.

Despite the loss, Parris had earned a bronze medal; Guyana’s first and still only Olympic medal.

“The feeling of standing on the podium was unexplainable (sic.). It was a great achievement. My emotions were all over the place. I felt very proud [to be] the first Olympic medallist from my country Guyana."

Life after the Olympics

Unfortunately, television was a novelty in Guyana back then, so very few Guyanese were able to witness the historic feat and share in the boxer’s elation of standing on the podium to receive his medal.

When he finally returned to Guyana, Parris, along with Patrick Forde, who had won a Commonwealth title, were part of a parade around the capital in a motorcade. The government also rewarded Parris with a house.

After that, he became a professional boxer. He fought 48 amateur fights between 1972 and 1982. He then had 29 fights in a professional career in which he had 17 wins with four KOs (knockouts), 10 defeats, and two draws from 1982 until November 1995.

“I was training for the 1984 Olympics but was told I was too old. They eventually selected a younger boxer who lost at the Olympics so that is the reason I turned pro," he explained.

Now, Parris is 62-years-old. He is the father of eight children and makes a living as a taxi driver in his home country.

In 2018, the Guyana Boxing Association named its U-16 Boxing Tournament ‘the Mike Parris’. In 2019, he travelled to Moscow, Russian Federation, where he was honoured by the World Olympic Association and the Russian Olympic Committee for winning Guyana’s lone medal.

Parris, who had many ups and downs and disappointments in his life, doesn't feel he was properly rewarded for bringing glory to Guyana. But he still hopes that he will be recognised by the Government of his country for his achievement in Moscow four decades ago.