Big setback for the U.S. team
BEIJING -- With 30 seconds left in the fourth and final round of his Olympic-opening bout, Rau'shee Warren, the U.S.' reigning flyweight world champ, looked to his teammates in the stands. They were gesturing wildly, and Warren swore he heard them yell, "Move! Move!" So Warren danced around on the outside until the referee told him to engage. By then, only four seconds remained.
It was during that brief pause when Warren heard his coach yell for him to punch. Amateur boxing coaches are supposed to remain silent in the corner, but this was a desperate moment. Warren rushed in and appeared to land a right hook just before the buzzer. But it didn't score, and Warren went to his corner not knowing that his Olympic dream had just slipped away by a single point. He had lost 9-8 to Lee Oksung, the fighter who beat Warren at the 2005 world championships and went on to win the competition.
Warren walked confidently to his corner, and coach Dan Campbell asked him why he had stopped punching. Warren told his coach that he thought he heard his teammates yelling, "Move!" And then, Campbell said, Warren asked, "You mean I lost?" And Campbell gave him the bad news.
Neither Warren nor Campbell, who has been brutally honest about his fighters' performances, could believe it. "Some things you don't want to say," Campbell said, "but it's hard to understand the scoring. Twice Rau'shee threw punches and scored, and [Lee] got the point. That determined the fight."
The crowd seemed to agree that Lee, 26, was awarded at least one point for a punch that Warren scored, as the first sustained chorus of boos during 2008 Olympic boxing wafted through the hockey-puck shaped Worker's Gymnasium after a Warren hook landed flush, but Lee was awarded a point.
Warren, 21, the first U.S. fighter since 1976 to compete in a second Olympics, was devastated after the fight, throwing his headgear, and later recognizing that "I got a little unsportsmanlike there." His loss is a serious blow to the United States, which lost medal contender Gary Russell Jr. before the fighting even started when he passed out trying to make weight and couldn't attend the weigh-in. U.S. boxing has never failed to win a medal in an Olympics in which it has competed, an amazing feat considering the sport entered the Games in 1904.
The best hope to keep that streak alive now is Demetrius Andrade, a defensive wizard and the reigning welterweight world champion. Andrade won his first bout on Sunday.
After Warren's fight, Campbell felt the scoring was poor enough, and that Warren was such an important part of the team, that the loss could be a psychological power punch to the rest of the team. "Our biggest fear is that they get discouraged," he said. "We have a psychologist around, and I'll make sure she talks to them."
But for Warren, who comes from an impoverished neighborhood in Cincinnati and put off going pro for four years to come back and win a gold medal, he'll have to do his talking in the professional ranks.