The Olympic Games date back to ancient Greece, as far as 3000 years ago. This is precisely why the first modern Olympic Games took place in Athens in 1896. Since then, nations from all corners of the globe have come together every four years to compete in various sports, each country vying for that highly coveted gold medal for the events that they’re competing in.
One particular national team that made a name for themselves from the get-go was the USA Boxing Team. From the very first introduction of the sport of modern boxing into the Olympic arena, American boxers were gathering up gold medals, signifying to the rest of the globe that although the origins of boxing can be traced back to Europe, boxing was very much America’s sport.
So let’s take a closer look at the history of the USA Boxing Team, and get up close and personal with their performance through the ages. In doing so, we may also learn just how the USA’s current team of heavyweights is hitting the gym with their boxing gloves, wearing down punching bags, and generally gearing up to win gold at the next Olympic Games in Paris in 2024.
A Golden History
As stated earlier, the US has a rich history of winning gold for boxing at countless Olympics across the twentieth century. In fact, America is more or less known for its champion boxers in different weight divisions in years past. Let’s have a look at some of the most famous among them.
Who hasn’t heard of Muhammad Ali? His saying, "float like a butterfly and sting like a bee", has been engraved solidly into the public consciousness. Ask almost anyone who said that, and they’ll be able to tell you right away.
His rise to fame began with his winning the light-heavyweight gold when he was 18 (and when he was known as Cassius Clay) in the 1960 Olympic games held in Rome. He went on to become one of boxing’s most legendary athletes.
Following in Ali’s footsteps was George Foreman, who snagged gold at the 1968 Mexico City games – which was a surprise win due to his relatively poor track record before that bout. The 1968 games were also the same games that saw USA runners John Carlos and Tommie Smith give the now-famous black power salute after their gold and silver win.
Foreman caused a bit of a stir by waving a small American flag proudly in the ring after his win. He, too, went on to have a stellar career and is also a household name these days, with his own range of grills.
Sugar Ray Leonard
The next champion to win gold at the Olympics was Sugar Ray Leonard, the golden child of an Olympic team that included Howard Davis Jr and the Spinks brothers. Sugar Ray avenged a prior loss to a rival Cuban boxer in the light-welterweight class and took home the gold medal.
Following his boxing success, Sugar Ray went on to work as a motivational speaker alongside dabbling in philanthropy. He is still highly regarded to be one of the greatest boxers of all time.
Oscar De La Hoya
This LA fighter caused an upset at the 1992 Barcelona games by defeating Mexican Julio Gonzalez and then German Marco Rudolph to bring home the gold. In his career, he has won 11 world titles in six different weight classes. De La Hoya was inducted into the United States Olympic Hall of Fame in 2008 and announced his retirement from professional boxing shortly after in 2009.
Ward is the last U.S. boxer to win a gold medal, which he won at his very first Olympic games in Athens, 2004. Ward is often referred to as America’s ‘last great boxer’, both for this achievement as well as the fact that he retired with an undefeated record in 2017.
It was also only after Ward’s win that we began to see the slow decline of Team USA’s boxing wins in the Olympic games.
The Big Gold Medal Drought
Some say the USA Men’s Boxing Olympic team is under a curse because they have not seen a gold medal since Ward’s in 2004, meaning that it’ll have been twenty years since their last win come Paris, 2024. Compared to their prior form (picking up 11 between the 1976 and 1984 games), this gold medal drought is naturally a huge concern for the team and for all its trainers and members, past and present.
Promising Olympic boxers Keyshawn Davis and Richard Torrez Jr couldn’t manage to end the drought in 2020, despite high hopes for them in Tokyo. The country finished in tenth place in Japan across all boxing events, both female and male. They ended up being shown up by Turkey and Bulgaria, with the U.K. and Cuba also punching well ahead.
It hasn’t all been doom and gloom, though, with the team snagging three silver medals in Japan last year, which was the best result that the USA has experienced over these past twenty years. The team does need to lift their game, however, and train hard over these next few years, to get to gold in Paris. The training that they’ll be undertaking now is essentially crucial for determining their fate come 2024.
What the Team are Doing
There’s no denying that the team is definitely training like there’s no tomorrow, and working towards winning at Paris in 2024. There is also just over two years to go until Paris, and who knows what young and talented boxers will emerge to play for Team USA Boxing in that time?
The team is also under the tutelage of Billy Walsh, former head coach for Ireland. Walsh oversaw seven medal wins at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics. He says that the biggest problem for Team USA Boxing is simply ensuring that the team maintains their motivation in the face of their gold medal drought. Walsh has publicly stated that despite these last two decades of misfortune, Team USA is determined and holds high hopes for a chance to win gold in Paris, 2024.
An Olympic Challenge Conclusion
Will the USA take some gold-medal wins at the next Olympic games? Will they break the current gold medal drought and restore the country’s pride in their boxing team? Time will tell, but all we know for now is that the current team is working hard to live up to the shadow cast by former greats such as Ali, Foreman, De La Hoya and Ward.
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