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Hitting While We're Down

U.S. boxing is bruised, but Andre Ward punched a golden ticket

WELL, AT LEAST there's Andre Ward. If not for the 20-year-old light heavyweight, who alone among his supposedly talented teammates won a gold medal on Sunday, the U.S. might have been sufficiently embarrassed to just drop the sport. As it is, Ward's medal, along with a bronze for middleweight Andre Dirrell, amount to the worst showing by a U.S. team since 1948 and extends a steady decline in its Olympic performance.

But as we said, at least there's Ward, who was the opposite of his underachieving brethren. Matched with bigger and more experienced fighters every bout, he was somehow able to gather inspiration. In his biggest fight earlier in the week, he reread the story of David and Goliath to motivate himself against the Russian world champion, Evgeny Makarenko, and beat him 23-16. Then, in his gold medal bout on Sunday, he imagined his father, Frank, dead two years now, watching him from the stands. A 20-13 victory over Belarus's 26-year-old Magomed Aripgadjiev followed.

Except for Dirrell, whose Olympic run was halted last Friday, the other U.S. boxers were not so easy to galvanize. Although there were the usual complaints about scoring, it was plain that the U.S. team, as usual, was simply not experienced, smart or even dedicated enough. When super heavyweight Jason Estrada bombed out in his medal match against a guy he'd beaten in another competition, he just shrugged it off and said, "If I'm gonna lose, I'm gonna lose getting hit as little as possible." That's the spirit.

The U.S. hasn't had a truly good non-boycotted Olympics since 1976--Sugar Ray Leonard et al.--and declining medal counts (there were four in Sydney, and that seemed disgraceful at the time) do not inspire hope. But this is a big country, and it's hard to believe there aren't at least a couple more Andre Wards out there. --Richard Hoffer


Photograph by Al Tielemans


The hand speed of Ward (red) was decisive in the final.