By Leland Stein III
LONDON – US men’s Olympic boxers have won a record 108 medals. But since David Reid took gold at Atlanta in 1996, only one US man — Andre Ward, in 2004 — has taken the Olympic title.
The list of pugilist that has taken the sweet science by storm over the years after achieving Olympic glory is simply legendary. Any list will have to start with Floyd Patterson (1952), Cassius Clay (now Muhammad Ali) in 1960, Joe Frazier (1964), George Foreman (1968), Sugar Ray Leonard (1976), Pernell Whitaker (1984), Mark Breland (1984), Evander Holyfield (1984), Michael Spinks (1976), Riddick Bowe (1988), Roy Jones Jr. (1988) Oscar de la Hoya (1992), and David Reid (1996).
There are others that found noteworthy success as professional fighters like Ray Seales (1972), John Tate (1976), Howard Davis (1976), Leo Randolph (1976), Steve McCrory (1984), Frank Tate (1984), Meldrick Taylor (1984), Tyrell Biggs (1984), Henry Tillman (1984), Michael Carbajal (1988), Ray Mercer (1988), Andrew Maynard (1988), Chris Byrd (1992), and Antonio Tarver 1996).
All of the above mentioned Olympians medaled at their Olympic Games and went on to successful professional careers. Fast forward into the 2000 and anyone can see something has happened to USA Boxing. In fact, the 2012 Olympic Games is the first in history where the US men did not medal in any of the weight classes. It took the US women to hold the boxing torch. In the first Games where women were allowed to participate in boxing, out of the three weight classes US women won two medals. Marlen Esparza won a bronze medal as a flyweight and Claressa Shields won the USA’s only boxing gold medal.
Shields’ historic gold was the first US gold since Ward and Ward’s was the first since Reid in 1996. The Olympic boxing gold has been hard to obtain for the US. That makes 17-year-old Shield’s remarkable win over two world champion women on her way to gold even that more impressive.
How does USA boxing get back on track? Are the mix martial arts diluting the talent pool? Surely the allure of college and professional football has taken away the Ali’s, Frazier’s and Foreman’s in US Boxing.
Another problem is that the USA Boxing names coaches, but the trainers that have worked with the fighters that make the Olympic team cannot be in their corners at the Games. Who knows the fighter better than the men and women that train them? No one!! And as the sweet science continues to grow internationally the fighters are getting better and better.
For example, I was watching a young lady from Ireland (Katie Taylor) fight for lightweight gold and in her corner was her father, who has trained her since she started boxing. The Irish Olympic officials told me, “Why would we put anyone else in her corner?”
I looked at the Americans and they have people in their fighter corners that simply do not know the fighters they are charged to cajole. The US Olympic Committee is also disappointed by boxing’s medal-less men’s team. USOC CEO Scott Blackmun offered no specifics, but it’s clear the governing body expected more from US fighters, who left the Olympics empty handed for the first time in team history.
‘‘We’re going to sit down and take a hard look at why we are where we are, and make some changes,’’ Blackmun said. ‘‘I don’t want to say anything beyond that.’’ The US men’s team, the most successful in Olympic history, lost nine of its last 10 bouts in London. USA Boxing has been criticized for a sharp decline in recent years, along with the fact that the coaching staff was not in place until just about a month before the games opened.
‘‘It’s very disappointing for all of us, but we all fought hard and tried,’’ welterweight Errol Spence said. ‘‘We’re disappointed in boxing,’’ Blackmun said. ‘‘We want to do better, particularly in men’s boxing. By saying disappointed in boxing, I don’t mean in the people. I mean, we’re disappointed that we didn’t do better in boxing, because I know that we can do better and we have to focus on how we do that.’’ Leland Stein can be reached at HYPERLINK "mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org" email@example.com or at Twitter @lelandsteinIII