The U.S. Boxing team is young, inexperienced and pretty thin at welterweight, where an arbitrator whacked the top two prospects out of the Olympic trials. It's hardly the bunch to restore glory to a faded program-just one gold medal in the last two Summer Games. But it's a lively squad, and even if it keeps getting sabotaged by its own administrators, it can hardly do worse than the 2000 team, which won zero gold medals in Sydney.
You have to like, in particular, the little guys. Well, in amateur boxing, you almost always end up liking the little guys. "The big guys go into football," reminds Al Mitchell, the 1996 Olympic coach. "We don't have a retirement package, you know." The city gyms are clogged with kids who have size-4 feet, top out at 112 pounds and have no athletic prospects beyond horse racing.
Two of them made the 2004 U.S. team last Friday in the box-offs in Cleveland (they still have to qualify for the Olympics in one of two international tournaments) and could generate some excitement yet Light flyweight Rau'Shee Warren, 17, of Cincinnati is a fistic whirlwind who seems suited to the international style, in which peppery punching scores better than slugging against the ropes.
And flyweight Ron Siler, another Cincinnati boxer, demonstrated the skill you'd expect of a two-time Golden Gloves champ (he was national champ in 2001 and bronze medalist in the worlds that year), plus a straight right hand with some sock to it.
For Siler, who will be 24 by the Athens Games in August, this is pretty much a last chance. Motherless almost since birth, raised by a father whose own grasp of family life was tentative at first, Siler's history is almost boilerplate boxing biography. He can tell you of his four boys (by two mothers, who both still enjoy his attention), his early upbringing when a Doberman pin-scher babysat him (tugging him around by his diaper) and a nine-month prison term (which he halfheartedly maintains was due to a case of mistaken identity). But since returning from that brink a little over a year ago, he can tell you, with much more conviction, that he hasn't lost a tournament since.
The two welterweights who had their last chance and didn't even know it, 152-pounders Juan McPherson and Andre Berto, are the sad residue of the Olympic trials held in Tunica, Miss., the week before. In the first round of their bout Berto threw McPherson to the canvas and, despite the almost comic blundering of USA Boxing (there were at least three reversals), the original decision of the ref and doctors—Berto out of the tournament by disqualification, McPherson out for being physically unable to continue—was upheld by an arbitrator the night before the box-offs. The new welterweight representative, Vanes Martirosyan, was named several days later, and following yet more bouts, the team was complete, if not fully polished. But it can only get better, right?