Warren gives USA boxing hope
US boxing correspondent Kevin Iole says that with the help of legendary trainer Freddie Roach, Rau'Shee Warren is Team USA's best bet for Olympic gold.
Michael Phelps, the great American swimmer, won eight gold medals in a record-smashing performance at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. In the 26-year-old Phelps’ lifetime, the United States has captured six gold medals in boxing, including only one in the last three Olympiads.
The reasons are as long as Dwight Howard’s inseam, but one of the biggest is a lack of commitment.
“There are some things we need to look at in terms of what we offer our kids,” USA Boxing national coach Joe Zanders said. “Look at the rest of the world and look at us. Look at the rest of the world and look at the government support of their program. They train year-round. They’re able to identify their team in a reasonable time and give everyone a shot. Whoever wins, they move forward with and coach them and prepare them.
“If you go to most of the countries we compete against, they have reasonable training sites. If you go to an Olympic training site in America, you can easily identify where the swimming training center is, because there is a swimming pool. If you go to any U.S. Olympic facility and you look around, you can see a lack of support for the [boxing] program. Unfortunately, the government doesn’t support us and in terms of what we get, it’s embarrassing.”
It will take a commitment on a number of levels to turn it around. From the fighter standpoint, it will take a boxer who is committed to chasing the Olympic dream, who respects what it means to wear the American colors and who is dedicated enough to earning a medal to devote his life to it, if necessary.
Fortunately for Team USA, that sounds suspiciously like a description of flyweight Rau’shee Warren.
The Cincinnati native will compete in the U.S. Olympic Trials, which begin with the draw on Saturday in Mobile, Ala., looking to become the first American ever to compete on three Olympic teams.
He’s an overwhelming favorite to win the light bantamweight division in Mobile and advance to the Olympics in 2012 in London – “If someone beats him at the Trials, we certainly have a great reason to be very excited about that young man,” Zanders said – and thus become USA Boxing’s first three-time Olympian.
Warren could have turned professional after a first-round loss in Beijing, a fight he likely should have won but did not. And though it had to have crossed his mind that he might be more suited for the professional game than the amateurs, Warren never wavered.
He was determined to compete in London and chase that elusive medal.
“I’ve had this dream for years, and I’m not about to give up on it just because times were tough,” Warren said. “I’ve dreamed of putting a gold medal around my Mom’s neck. She taught me to compete. She taught me never to give up. She taught me to work hard and chase my dream and so I owe this to her. I was going to go for it because I didn’t want to quit.”
Warren was 17 and the youngest American Olympian in 2004 when he was eliminated in the first round by China’s Zou Shiming. In 2008, as captain of Team USA, he thought he was winning and stayed away late in the final round of his opening-round bout with Korean Lee Ok-Sung.
He could have given up on the dream because there was a lot of money to be made in professional boxing. Warren is a fast-handed and elusive boxer who hits hard for his size. Had he turned professional after Beijing, he likely would have fought for a title already, or been on the verge of it.
But nothing was going to deter him from pursuing an Olympics gold. .
The decision didn’t surprise those who know him the best and understand his competitiveness, dedication and discipline. His 2008 teammate, Cleveland’s Raynell Williams, is also back for another crack, hoping to make the team this time as a lightweight after having compete in Beijing as a featherweight.
Williams said he never doubted that Warren would return.
“There is a reason why I’m back trying to go for a second time,” Williams said. “We didn’t get the medal and so we didn’t complete what we set out to do. I guess it depends upon how you look at it, but an Olympic medal is so valuable because of how hard it is to get. If it was easy, everyone could get one and it wouldn’t mean as much. …
“It’s the biggest thing in amateur boxing. And Rau’shee knows that. He knows that it’s never too late to go pro, but once you go pro, you can’t go back.”
Freddie Roach, the five-time professional Trainer of the Year who is serving as a volunteer assistant for Team USA, worked with Warren for three days two weeks ago and came away enormously impressed.
The most important thing Warren needs, Roach said, is positive reinforcement.
“I told him that when I see him fight in these national tournaments or when I watch him on tape, I see him going in there and killing these guys,” Roach said. “He’s blowing them away, like it’s no competition. But when he goes to the Olympics, he’s not the same guy. Mentally, he told me he thought he was a little bit overwhelmed.
“Since he’s been to two Olympics and lost both of them, me and the coaches had a meeting and we decided that he needs a lot of positive people around him going into this third one. He might have some doubts, especially in the first fight, and he needs someone to really, really encourage him and get him to fight his fight, because if he fights his fight, I have no doubt he’ll do really well.”
A gold medal is a life-changing experience, particularly for a boxer. Ask 1992 gold medalist Oscar De La Hoya or 1976 gold medalist Sugar Ray Leonard, who parlayed their Olympic success into millions upon millions of dollars in the professional ranks.
If Warren manages to win, he’ll be one of the biggest stories at the Games and could have long-term positive implications for the USA Boxing program.
“Rau’shee is a tremendous talent and it’s unfortunate that a lot of people don’t realize how great a kid he is,” Zanders said. “To me, he’s the Muhammad Ali of amateur boxing. Look at his stats: You could count his losses on one hand. And let’s be honest. Most of his losses were a joke.
“He has a tremendous opportunity here to do well in the Olympic Games. His work ethic is unquestioned. He is extremely disciplined. The key for him is to do the little things. He has to be better than he was the last two times, because the competition is better, but he’s improved, matured and shown an unbelievable commitment to trying to be the best he can be. That’s exactly the type of athlete we need as part of this team.”