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Uncertainty Clouds U.S. Future for Olympic Boxing

Basheer Abdullah ran out of his corner, steaming like a madman after light-heavyweight Jeffery Spencer, his top fighter at Fort Carson, lost a narrow decision to Sijoula Shabazz.

“I don’t know what they love about that kid!” Abdullah screamed last week near a table of judges, in reference to Shabazz. “That kid isn’t going to win any medals for us!”
The country’s future amateur boxing stars remain in a revolving door, with plenty of uncertainty over the prognosis of Olympic results, and not much was settled at the USA Boxing national championships.

Of the 13 defending champions in Olympic weight classes, six won in the semifinals to reach the finals at City Auditorium – Louie Byrd of Denver at light-flyweight; Marlen Esparza at flyweight; Joseph Diaz Jr. at bantamweight; Jose Ramirez and Queen Underwood at lightweight; and Errol Spence at welterweight. Five defending champions didn’t reach the semifinals – Spencer; light-welterweight Pedro Sosa; middleweights Luis Arias and Tiffanie Hearn; and super-heavyweight Lenroy Thompson.

Lightweight Raynell Williams, trying to become only the third U.S. boxer to fight at two Olympics, was upset in his first bout, meaning he must win a last-chance qualifier July 4-8 in Cincinnati to get in the U.S. Olympic trials that begin July 31 in Mobile, Ala. In the trials are Byrd, Diaz, Ramirez, Sosa, Spence, Spencer and Thompson, as well as two-time Olympian Rau’shee Warren at flyweight, 2008 Olympic trials winner Michael Hunter at heavyweight and defending heavyweight champ Steve Geffrard. Esparza and Underwood have qualified for the women’s Olympic trials, scheduled for January or February.

Building depth for the 2012 London Games, where women fighters make their Olympic debut, ranks among the primary objectives of Springs-based USA Boxing following the disappointment of Beijing in 2008, when nine Americans combined to win one medal – a bronze by now-professional Deontay Wilder – in their worst showing in Olympic history.

Warren cited the naming of national team coach Joe Zanders to replace Springs resident Dan Campbell and the elimination of a much-criticized residency program at the Olympic Training Center as reasons “it’s going to be different” in London. “A lot of fights that we fought” in Beijing, he said, “we didn’t get. . . . It didn’t even look like we were supposed to be in the Olympics, the way they had us losing. They were just dropping us like flies.”

Williams attributed the U.S. meltdown in Beijing to questionable judging, as Warren and Luis Yanez each suffered one-point defeats, while Williams and Demetrius Andrade lost by two points apiece. “If you watch the fights, you’ll see that some of the decisions were controversial,” Williams said. “I feel like you can’t judge us from that.”

Thompson said he doesn’t “see any reason why the U.S. shouldn’t be dominant,” but he maintains that “all these other countries, all these European countries, their fighters have reached the Olympics three or four times. And they’re winning gold medals. It’s hard to go in, after boxing for three or four years, and be the best in the world.”

For 1996 Olympic bronze medalist Nate Jones, “Rau’shee is the face of amateur boxing,” yet he’s “the only one that really sticks out. . . . It seems like the Germans and everybody is getting ahead of us now simply because there’s a lack of support. We need this country to come together and support these kids.” He added, “I hope it doesn’t get any worse.”

Source: The Bellingham Herald

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