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Boxed out

U.S. performance in Athens borders on disgraceful

Posted: Thursday August 26, 2004 5:33AM; Updated: Thursday August 26, 2004 5:50AM
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  Andre Dirrell
Andre Dirrell will go home with an Olympic medal, which is a rarity among U.S. boxers this year.
AP

The two Andres, middleweight Dirrell and light-heavy Ward, may not have saved the day, but they've saved U.S. boxing some serious embarrassment. Thanks to quarterfinal wins -- Ward beating two-time world champion Evgeny Makaranko on Tuesday and Dirrell just outpointing Cuba's Herrera Despaigne on Wednesday -- the U.S. is assured of at least two bronze medals. This is down even from the paltry count in Sydney (two silver, one bronze) but it at least will not remind anybody of the 1948 squad, which returned just a single silver.

Still, no matter what Dirrell and Ward do in their semifinal matches on Friday, this is a disappointing outing, verging on disgrace. It's true the U.S. team is young, and it's not likely to ever return Olympic veterans in the Cuban and Russian fashion, and it's true that boxing is no longer as popular among kids. But, still, this is a big country and even with a shallower pool of talent, it should produce more than a couple of keepers every four years.

Super heavyweight Jason Estrada seems to exemplify the disdain U.S. kids seem to have for what was once a glamour event, not to mention a nice little career starter. After he simply folded in his quarterfinal bout Monday, against a fighter he'd already beaten, Estrada dismissed the entire effort, saying, "The hell with them . . . this is what I do. I'm an entertainer."

Well, not really, and certainly not yet. Several of the U.S. fighters seem to believe they're "pro" fighters, and that an Olympic loss is simply a colorful detour on their way to riches. But if Estrada thinks he's going to follow in the steps of that other entertainer, Cassius Clay (who did win a gold medal), he better stop saying things like, "If I'm gonna lose, I'm gonna lose getting hit as little as possible."

In fact, there are hardly any professional scouts in Athens watching these bouts, which is no wonder as there aren't any moneymakers among them. And as far as any hobbling influence of the "pro style," even coach Basheer Abdullah is quick to point out that past teams have done fine with kids from pro gyms, kids like Sugar Ray Leonard, Oscar de la Hoya.

Boxing, no matter what the style, will always be a matter of talent and heart, which the U.S. team just doesn't have in its historical abundance.

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