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Fighter Has Drive To Succeed U.S. Entry In Pan Am Games Has Sights Set On Gold Medal In Olympics

Super heavyweight Lance Whitaker calls the sprawling San Fernando Valley home. When you live out of a 1983 Toyota Celica, there’s no need to be specific with cities.

Most boxers dream of the riches a pro title can bring. Right now, Whitaker would settle for a place to live.

“I can’t afford an apartment,” said the 23-year-old Whitaker. “I stay with a couple of friends mostly. But most of my clothes and stuff are in the car.”

The car is at a buddy’s place while Whitaker spends a few weeks in his temporary home, the Pan Am Games athletes’ village on the ocean outside Mar del Plata.

It is here where he hopes to make a name for himself - and get some more money out of U.S. boxing officials - by winning a gold medal in his first major international tournament.

“I’ve got a very good chance of winning the gold,” said Whitaker, who won his first bout Monday night when Andrew Stewart of Grenada did not show up. “I just need to relax more in the ring and not be so tight with my punches.”

A late convert to boxing - he didn’t start until he was 21 - the 6-foot-8 Whitaker brings size and some developing skills into his quest for a Pan Am title and, ultimately, a gold medal at next year’s Olympics in Atlanta.

Whitaker was a center in high school basketball and a defensive end on the football team when a local boxing trainer spotted him ditching school one day in a Burger King and asked him if he wanted to make a million dollars.

“I said I’m an open, reasonable guy,” Whitaker recalled. “He saw how big I was and figured I could knock a lot of guys out.”

His size and strength gives him an advantage in the depleted super heavyweight division, where only six boxers are competing in these games. Whitaker, though, is the first to admit he has yet to learn to use it properly.

Whitaker has trouble putting his body into his punches, meaning most of what he throws are arm punches that have little power behind them.

“I need a lot more experience, a lot more work. I tend to stand up too tall in the ring. I’m still learning to sit down on my punches instead of throwing arm punches.”

Whitaker has resisted efforts by his trainers to get him to turn pro, aware he needs to learn how to box first. He’s also aware of the riches an Olympic gold medal can bring to an aspiring pro.

“I’ve got people calling me and wanting me to turn pro,” Whitaker said. “If I did, I’d just be fighting for a little bit of money at the Forum of something like that. I just say wait until after the Olympics.”

Waiting, though, means a meager existence while Whitaker chases his dream of a gold.

He’s angry at U.S. boxing officials, who pay him $860 a month for expenses while he trains and competes on the national team. His application for additional aid was rejected.

“It’s hard,” Whitaker said. “I’m 6-8, 235. I need to eat. I wear size 17 shoes that I have to buy. I need more money.”

Whitaker also has to share in the support of his 5-month-old son, Lance Jr., who lives with his mother.

“It’s really not fair. I’ve got bills and responsibilities and I’ve got a boy to support,” he said. “It just doesn’t work on the money I get from them. That’s why I don’t have a place to live.”

And if he does win a gold meal and earn riches as a pro?

“I think I’ll buy a Mercedes,” Whitaker said.

Maybe a house too, so he won’t have to live in the car.