USA Boxing will name Basheer Abdullah head coach for the 2012 London Games.
“It’s always an honor to be able to represent your country at the highest level the world has to offer in the sport,” he said. “I think I have something to prove, and my goal is to bring USA Boxing back to being one of the best programs in the world.”
Abdullah will fill the same post he held in the 2004 Olympics, when light heavyweight (81kg/178 lbs) Andre Ward won a gold medal and middleweight (75kg/165 lbs) Andre Dirrell took bronze under his tutelage in Athens.
In addition to previously running the U.S. Army World Class Athlete boxing program, Staff Sgt. Abdullah was also Team USA’s technical advisor for the 2000 Sydney Games that yielded two silver and two bronze medals.
The selection ends an exhaustive two-month interview process conducted by a task force led by Joe Zanders, who stepped down as head coach in April to take another position within USA Boxing.
Raquel Ruiz reported that the task force’s final candidates included Candelario “Candy” Lopez and Israel Acosta, who will now serve as Abdullah’s assistant coaches.
Lopez, who runs both the San Jose Police Athletic League and San Jose State University boxing programs in Northern California, has prior Olympic experience as an assistant coach in 2000.
Last year, he steered Eros Correa to an upset triumph at the 2011 Olympic Trials at light flyweight (49kg/108 lbs) before he was unable to make weight at U.S. Nationals the following year, ending his London dream.
“I got interviewed yesterday morning, and it feels great to hear the news,” Lopez said. “It’s a real honor to be named assistant coach and work in the corner with these talented kids in London.”
The Milwaukee-based Acosta worked alongside Lopez and Abdullah in Sydney as an assistant coach, while recently working the corner for the American women in the Continental Championships.
By his count, Acosta has trained 19 national champions out of the United Community Center Gym, including former national team member Luis Feliciano.
Abdullah will now work with the task force and athlete representatives to determine the third assistant coach and technical advisor to round out the staff.
With the nine men and three women of Team USA scheduled to arrive in Colorado Springs this week for one final month of training before the Olympics, Abdullah is cognizant that there will be no time to waste.
“We have great potential to win some medals,” Abdullah said. “A lot of people think we don’t have a chance because we’re going through things like the selection of the head coach last minute, but I have faith in my coaches for us to get the job done.
“I think we’ll be physically prepared. Going into this, my primary focus will be mental preparation. I have a program in place that will have my fighters ready to block out the distractions and uncertainties that come with going to the Olympics.”
The state of the amateur program was at an all-time low following the 2008 Beijing Games, when the team failed to register a single gold or silver medal. However, although the Americans arrive in London as marked underdogs, they have displayed a collective sense of resolve. An unexpected 12 out of a possible 13 fighters punched their tickets to London.
Abdullah has vowed not to make the same mistakes twice in his second tour of duty in charge of Team USA.
“What I’ve learned is that you have to manage all the way through as far as being a leader and head coach,” he said. “Also, I’m not afraid to change the plan like I was in 2004.”
Inflexibility and a lack of composure are two traits Abdullah hopes to have discarded in time for the tournament.
“I stuck a little bit to the script in 2004 and didn’t let the athletes be themselves when necessary,” he added. “I was a little young and it was my first time being in charge, and I panicked at times. Now my athletes know when there’s really a sense of urgency, and that’s just something I gained through experience.”
Despite the time constraints of an abbreviated training camp, the new coaching staff has embraced the challenges that lie ahead.
“We need that support from the American public,” Lopez said. “Cheer us on and be positive. We’ll only have one month, so it won’t do any good to blow on the negative. These kids have been working on this goal all their boxing lives, and they’re on the steps of the door. Time for us to show and prove.”
Source: Ryan Maquinana, NBC Olympics
Boxing correspondent Ryan Maquiñana writes a weekly column for Comcast SportsNet Bay Area (CSNBayArea.com). He’s also a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America and Ring Magazine’s Ratings Panel. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, check out his blog at norcalboxing.net or follow him on Twitter: @RMaq28.