Thursday, January 17, 2002

Boxer Carl ‘Bobo’ Olson,
sports icon, dies at 73

'The Kalihi Kid' was world
middleweight champ from '53 to '55

By Dave Reardon

Boxer Carl "Bobo" Olson, one of the most prominent figures in Hawaii sports history, died at about 11:30 last night at Queen's Medical Center of complications from Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases.

Olson, 73, who went from scrapping on the streets of Kalihi to title fights at Madison Square Garden, was world middleweight champ from 1953-55.

His health suffered in recent years, including a heart problem in 2000 when he was in New York to be inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

Mass is scheduled at noon Wednesday at Our Lady of Peace Cathedral. Visitation begins at 9 a.m. His ashes will be scattered at 5 p.m. Thursday in the waters off the Elks Club. Williams Mortuary is handling the arrangements.

In the golden era of boxing in Hawaii, the fighter known as "The Kalihi Kid" and "The Hawaiian Swede" was among the biggest sports stars from the islands and went on to worldwide fame. His record was 99-16-2. He was inducted into the World Boxing Hall of Fame in 1958.

"There were many great ones, but I've always said Bobo's the greatest Hawaii ever had," said Bobby Lee, a vice president of the World Boxing Council.

Olson won the world middleweight title by defeating Randy Turpin of England on October 21, 1953, before 18,869 at Madison Square Garden.

Sportscaster Les Keiter, who first met the fighter in Hawaii, called his bouts here and attended some of them on the mainland.

"He was very outgoing, personable," Keiter said. "He bubbled all the time, the kind of guy who would put an affectionate hand on your shoulder when he talked to you. The warmest human being I've ever known. A charmer and a strong family man.

"But don't get me wrong, this was a very tough guy who came off the streets," Keiter added. "That's why it was wonderful to see him develop such a warm personality. If he hadn't gone into boxing, he could've ended up as a gangster. He was mean and tough in his very early youth, but he got some discipline from boxing."

Olson was 16 when he started his pro career. He used a fake ID to qualify for a fight on Aug. 19, 1944, when he knocked out Bob Correa. After starting his career in Honolulu, Olson fought based out of San Francisco for several years.

"He wasn't always appreciated in Honolulu. Like most towns, they want bangers, not cuties," Lee said. "Bobo wasn't really a cutie, but he wasn't that much of a slugger, more of a boxer. He couldn't draw here so he had to go to California. He was a smart fighter."

But Hawaii's pride in Olson grew as his string of victories increased.

Olson gradually built up a strong enough record to be matched with Sugar Ray Robinson on Oct. 26, 1950, in Philadelphia. Robinson knocked him out in the 12th round. It was the first of four losses for Olson against Robinson.

"He came close once or twice, but never could quite get Sugar Ray," Keiter said.

The second time they met, on March 13, 1952, in San Francisco, it was a closer fight and it was for the world title. The bout was even for 10 rounds, but Robinson took over and won a 15-round decision.

Robinson's temporary retirement in 1953 vacated the world middleweight title. Olson beat Paddy Young for the American title on June 19, 1953. Then he took the world title with a unanimous decision over Turpin four months later.

It was the peak of his career.

Olson successfully defended the title against welterweight champ Kid Gavilan and top contender Rocky Castellani.

He moved up to light heavyweight and beat former champion Joey Maxim. But he lost to Archie Moore for the title on a third-round knockout on June 22, 1955, at the Polo Grounds.

Olson always bounced back well from big losses, and later earned two more shots at Robinson, but was knocked out in the second round on Dec. 9, 1955, and in the fourth on May 18, 1956.

Olson announced his retirement Oct. 3, 1956, but came back. He fought 35 more times, battling back into title contention twice, this time as a heavyweight, despite a second retirement. He finally left the ring for good after losing a 10-round decision to Don Fullmer on Nov. 22, 1966. Olson was 38.

Olson went to work as a recreation director for troubled youth in the California Bay Area. The program was cut in 1969, and he took a public relations job with the Teamsters union.

He spent most of his final years in Honolulu. Olson was inducted into the Hawaii Sports Hall of Fame in the initial group of 35 athletes in 1997.

Olson is survived by wife, Judith K.; sons Carl Jr., Vincent H., Grant J., Dane C. and Arthur D.; daughters Brenda Cotta, Cynthia L. and Dawn L.; sisters Mathilda L. Howze and Bernice Sullivan; and 18 grandchildren.

"From the time I was a little boy he was always the champ, and he still is today," his nephew, Bob Foster, said. "We were always very proud of him. In those days, it was pretty hard for a kid from Hawaii to make it, and he did it."

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