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LONDON (AP) — The U.S. men’s boxing team is done at the Olympics, headed home without a medal for the first time ever.
All nine men from the most successful nation in Olympic boxing history were eliminated after losses by flyweight Rau’shee Warren and welterweight Errol Spence on Friday night, capping a stunning run of nine straight defeats in five days.
Although three U.S. women are still alive in their first Olympic tournament, which begins Sunday, the American men will go home with their worst showing at any games.
“It’s disappointing, because we all hate to lose,” Spence said. “It’s real disappointing, because we expect to come home with medals, and we didn’t. It’s kind of sad right now.”
The vaunted American team had claimed at least one boxing medal in every modern Olympics where boxing was a sport except the boycotted Moscow Games, and many of the men who won them are among the giants of the sweet science.
Cassius Clay, Joe Frazier, George Foreman, Floyd Patterson, Oscar De La Hoya, Evander Holyfield, Roy Jones Jr. and Floyd Mayweather Jr. all won medals for U.S. teams, leading generations of boxing talent the world couldn’t match.
The Americans’ 48 gold medals and 108 total medals are easily the most in Olympic boxing history, with 45 more medals than second-place Cuba.
The London team actually won its first four fights last weekend, but then the losses piled up with alarming speed. The U.S. shutout caps a two-decade struggle to adapt to changes in the amateur sport, with steadily declining medal counts ever since boxing went to a computerized scoring system that rewards a style with stark differences from pro boxing.
Warren is the first three-time Olympic boxer in U.S. history, but the third-seeded flyweight lost his opening bout at the games for a third time, falling to France’s Nordine Oubaali 19-18. An hour later, Spence lost a difficult decision to defense-minded Krishan Vikas, 13-11, struggling to penetrate the Indian fighter’s technical, plodding style.
“We did a lot of work, got a lot of coaching, but it’s the judges that we feel we’re going against most of the time,” Warren said.
The 2008 U.S. team won only one bronze medal in Beijing, previously its worst showing — but at least that team won six total fights, two more than the London team. The American men have won only one gold medal in the last four Olympics, by Andre Ward in Athens in 2004.
The Americans didn’t seem headed for this wipeout last week. Their 4-0 start showed their improved team chemistry after the Beijing team squabbled and argued its way to a dismal showing.
The current U.S. team had a strong relationship with head coach Basheer Abdullah and his staff, even though Abdullah only had about six weeks to prepare as a last-minute hire by USA Boxing. None of the fighters blamed the coaching-staff turmoil for his performance, but the string of losses was stark: Three fighters lost on Wednesday, followed by two apiece on Thursday and Friday.
Abdullah came close to suggesting the judges might have been bias against some American fighters, although he believes U.S. boxers need years of training in the amateur sport to compete at its highest levels. Amateur boxing features five ringside judges who award points only when they believe a punch lands, rather than traditional scoring systems that evaluate skill, style, technique and aggression.
The amateur sport moved to a computerized scoring system after Jones’ infamous loss at the Seoul Olympics in 1988, when three judges awarded a decision to South Korea’s Park Hi-sun after Jones dominated their fight.
“I don’t blame any (scoring) systems,” Abdullah said. “I blame the people that operate them. I’m disappointed in some of the things I’m seeing.”
Spence knew the feeling after three rounds of trying to break through the passive guard of Vikas, who fights a rigid amateur style emphasizing defense and tactical aggression. India’s amateur boxing scene has surged in popularity in the four years since Vijender Singh won his nation’s first Olympic medal in Beijing, with thousands of prospective Olympians training in the amateur style with no intention of ever turning pro.
“I thought I won the fight,” said Spence, a talented puncher who intends to turn pro this fall, along with most of his teammates. “I thought I threw more punches and landed more shots. I thought I was the more aggressive boxer. It was kind of frustrating, but he’s fighting to the computer system.”
Warren’s loss was particularly heartbreaking. The undersized dynamo nicknamed “Nuke” twice passed on a pro career and a chance to provide financially for his growing family to take another shot at hanging a gold medal around the neck of his mother, Paulette.
He waited well over a decade for this moment, climbing the amateur ranks in his native Cincinnati and avoiding the pitfalls that put two of his three brothers in prison. He climbed to the top of the amateur sport — and then stumbled at the three biggest moments of his career.
Warren wept in Beijing when he lost his opening bout on a last-minute tactical error. Four years and another one-point loss later, he seemed dulled to the pain of going winless in his unmatched Olympic career.
And he won’t be back for Rio: Warren said he’ll turn pro, probably along with every member of his team.
“It ain’t really no setback for me,” Warren said. “I’ve got big things coming up. This isn’t the end for Rau’shee Warren.”
Oubaali rallied from a first-round deficit with more aggression and precision than the third-seeded Warren, a former world champion. Warren also lost his contact lenses in the opening round and couldn’t size up Oubaali, who mostly controlled the final two rounds.
Warren still thought he might have eked out the decision, but few fans at the ExCel area seemed surprised when Oubaali got the decision. Abdullah also said he agreed with the decision.
Now 25, Warren says he’s still happy he stuck around to become the first three-time U.S. Olympic boxer — even though he might be the biggest disappointment on the least successful American team ever.
“It’s always a good experience,” he said, “to do something people don’t normally do.”
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The Soyuz TMA-10M
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