Ward wants U.S. boxing woes cured
2004 gold medalist has ideas for fixing flagging American amateur program
After a quick start, Team USA boxers at the London Olympics are being bounced out of the tournament one after another.
Heading into Friday's competition, only two members of the team remain alive going into the quarterfinals: flyweight Rau'Shee Warren -- who had a bye and wasn't scheduled to open his tournament until Friday afternoon -- and welterweight Errol Spence.
After decades of U.S. dominance in amateur boxing, the London Olympics are looking like a repeat -- and maybe worse -- of the one-medal haul from Team USA boxers in Beijing in 2008, when heavyweight Deontay Wilder's bronze was all the Americans won. The performance of the 2008 team matched the worst for a U.S. Olympic boxing squad in history.
Whatever the problem is from an internal standpoint, get everything sorted out right after the Olympics so we can go ahead and be a force again. If we didn't have the talent or the numbers, I could understand. I'd still want to win, but I'd understand. But we have talent. We have numbers.” -- Andre Ward, 2004 U.S. light heavyweight gold medalist, on the current problems plaguing Team USA boxing
Even if Warren and Spence both medal, it will be another disappointing Olympics, and few are more frustrated by Team USA's performance than super middleweight world champion Andre Ward, who happens to be the last U.S. Olympic gold medalist, meaning his opinion counts more than most. He won the light heavyweight gold in Athens in 2004.
Ward is presently training for his big Sept. 8 showdown against light heavyweight champ Chad Dawson -- who is dropping down in weight to challenge for Ward's belts -- but he is keeping tabs on Team USA.
"It bothers me. It's frustrating. It's discouraging. It's a lot of different things," Ward said Thursday night after two more Americans were bounced from the tournament -- lightweight Jose Ramirez, who had been one of the brightest medal hopefuls, and middleweight Terrell Gausha, whose impressive knockout win in his opening fight lifted hopes for a medal.
Those fighters losing on the big stage is simply the culmination of the disaster that is USA Boxing, which has been as dysfunctional as the Ewing family on "Dallas." All you have to know is that the team barely trained together before going to London and that, because of an obscure rule related to his involvement with a pro fighter, U.S. Olympic head coach Basheer Abdullah (who wasn't even formally named head coach until late June) isn't allowed in the corner during his fighters' bouts in London.
Abdullah was also head coach in 2004 and a technical adviser to Team USA in 2000 and 2008. His presence in the corner, Ward said, was a big lift to his gold medal run.
"I needed him in the corner," Ward said. "It's ridiculous that he isn't allowed in the corner for these guys. We have great coaches. Basheer Abdullah, it is a major disservice that he can't be in the corner."
Ward said he hoped that Warren and Spence could get the job done and bring home medals. But without taking any cheap shots at USA Boxing, Ward said what we all know: There are internal problems that have made the entire Olympic process for Team USA a wreck that shows in the ring when the bright lights go on.
He said USA Boxing needs to recognize there are issues and deal with them now, not wait around so that they continue to fester and negatively impact 2016.
"The United States used to be a force to be reckoned with. We have the best athletes in the world," Ward said. "But whatever the problem is from an internal standpoint, get everything sorted out right after the Olympics so we can go ahead and be a force again. If we didn't have the talent or the numbers, I could understand. I'd still want to win, but I'd understand. But we have talent. We have numbers."
The brutal performance so far for Team USA, Ward said, "just throws gas on the fire" of the waning fortunes of American amateur boxing.
"There's been a fire for years now. It's horrible," he said. "Whatever the problems are, though, they can be fixed. These kids in London have given it their best, but when our country looks like this, it's not good for the sport, not good for our country and not even good for professional boxing."
Ward offered one suggestion that he thought could at least help the process of turning things around -- encourage past top American amateurs to get involved in the program. He said he would be willing to do his part.
"I'm not as involved as I'd like to be," Ward said. "I'm not here to bash USA Boxing, but I'd like to be involved a little more. Hopefully, next time I will be regardless of how busy I am. I yearn for the Olympians to come back. I think that would be great for the young guys. There should be something in place where we give back to the young men and women and show we're behind them."
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Ward said that during his training for the 2004 Games, Andrew Maynard, who was the American light heavyweight in the 1988 Seoul Olympics, was around to offer support to the 2004 team.
"He hung around, spent a few days with us," Ward said. "Just him being there, his presence, it meant a lot to me and helped me. He was there, and I knew he was a guy who had gone through the process. It did a lot for me because I knew he had been there. You could talk to him. He knew exactly what we were all going through."
That's something that can easily be done that just might go a long way toward helping sort out the mess. I'm sure any amateur headed for the Olympics could make great use of the presence of such former Olympians as Oscar De La Hoya, Chris Byrd, Ward and others, if they were willing to help out with the team here and there.
But there is also heavy lifting to be done, like getting a team in place sooner, molding the members into a cohesive unit, participating in more international dual meets to gain much-needed experience and making sure the coach is in place well ahead of time.
"It's tough, but it goes beyond the athletes," Ward said. "We have some of the best athletes in the world, so I'm trying to be positive about it."
It ain't easy.
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