Posted: Sunday August 29, 2004 1:50PM; Updated: Sunday August 29, 2004 1:50PM
The U.S. boxing team, even with Andre Ward's gold from Sunday's light-heavyweight bout, finished with its worst medal take since 1948, when the team just had a single silver.
Even when you take in all the possible excuses -- international scoring, the lure of professional boxing, the attraction of other sports -- this is beginning to look like a disaster. In Sydney, there were three medals, no gold. In Barcelona, four years before that, six medals, one gold. Anybody see a trend?
This is not the kind of achievement that is going to save boxing in the Olympics, which is always just one international incident away from expulsion anyway. And it's certainly not going to save amateur boxing in the U.S. If a country as large and as rich as the U.S. -- home to the sport of boxing in almost every way -- can't keep pace with Thailand (three medals), it might be time to opt out and devote its resources to synchronized swimming.
Nobody says the U.S. has to compete evenly with Cuba or Russia, which are both able to return gold medalists time and again. The U.S. wants its boxers to turn pro and is willing to sacrifice world dominance at the amateur level so the talent can enjoy the boons of capitalism. And nobody here is arguing for a kind of Dream Team, whereby our pro boxers would fight Cuba's "pro" boxers.
But, really, can't the U.S. do better than this? The coaching staff seemed well intentioned, but it couldn't keep some of the boxers from flaking out. And, in fact, are these really the best boxers out there? The failure to produce any spectacular professionals since Oscar de la Hoya in 1992 suggests amateur boxing is not much of a farm system these days.
The failure may be as much generational as institutional, with talent drained away to basketball and football. But usually there's been some part of the population -- and it's always shifted -- that values boxing.
Which brings to mind, where were all the Hispanic boxers this time around?
In any case, there is not much time to solve this; any further decline in a sport that already is unpopular enough it can't get on network TV and it could be gone for good.