The U.S. boxing team is young, inexperienced and pretty thin at
welterweight, where an arbitrator whacked the top two prospects
out of the Olympic trials. It's hardly the bunch to restore glory
to a faded program--just one gold medal in the last two Summer
Games. But it's a lively squad, and even if it keeps getting
sabotaged by its own administrators, it can hardly do worse than
the 2000 team, which won zero gold medals in Sydney.
You have to like, in particular, the little guys. Well, in
amateur boxing, you almost always end up liking the little guys.
"The big guys go into football," reminds Al Mitchell, the 1996
Olympic coach. "We don't have a retirement package, you know."
The city gyms are clogged with kids who have size-4 feet, top out
at 112 pounds and have no athletic prospects beyond horse racing.
Two of them made the 2004 U.S. team last Friday in the box-offs
in Cleveland (they still have to qualify for the Olympics in one
of two international tournaments) and could generate some
excitement yet. Light flyweight Rau'Shee Warren, 17, of
Cincinnati is a fistic whirlwind who seems suited to the
international style, in which peppery punching scores better than
slugging against the ropes.
And flyweight Ron Siler, another Cincinnati boxer, demonstrated
the skill you'd expect of a two-time Golden Gloves champ (he was
national champ in 2001 and bronze medalist in the worlds that
year), plus a straight right hand with some sock to it.
For Siler, who will be 24 by the Athens Games in August, this is
pretty much a last chance. Motherless almost since birth, raised
by a father whose own grasp of family life was tentative at
first, Siler's history is almost boilerplate boxing biography. He
can tell you of his four boys (by two mothers, who both still
enjoy his attention), his early upbringing when a Doberman
pinscher babysat him (tugging him around by his diaper) and a
nine-month prison term (which he halfheartedly maintains was due
to a case of mistaken identity). But since returning from that
brink a little over a year ago, he can tell you, with much more
conviction, that he hasn't lost a tournament since.
The two welterweights who had their last chance and didn't even
know it, 152-pounders Juan McPherson and Andre Berto, are the sad
residue of the Olympic trials held in Tunica, Miss., the week
before. In the first round of their bout Berto threw McPherson to
the canvas and, despite the almost comic blundering of USA Boxing
(there were at least three reversals), the original decision of
the ref and doctors--Berto out of the tournament by
disqualification, McPherson out for being physically unable to
continue--was upheld by an arbitrator the night before the
box-offs. The new welterweight representative, Vanes Martirosyan,
was named several days later, and following yet more bouts, the
team was complete, if not fully polished. But it can only get
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN IACONO (TOP) Siler (right) stopped Aaron Alafa in the second round to earn aspot on the U.S. team.