Tuesday, September 19|
U.S., Cuba sending full teams to Olympics
ESPN.com news services
MASHANTUCKET, Conn. -- The United States Olympic
boxing team might be one of the most heralded squads in recent
U.S. Olympic boxing coach Tom Mustin will take a 12-man team
that consists of three reigning amateur world champions -- light
flyweight Brian Viloria, featherweight Ricardo Juarez and
heavyweight Michael Bennett, each of whom are favored to bring
back medals from Sydney, Australia.
"Some guys I predicted would win at the World Championships
didn't," said Mustin, who was an alternate U.S. boxing coach for
the 1992 and 1996 teams.
In the last two Olympics, the U.S. team has brought home just
two gold medals. In 1992, of course, it was "Golden Boy" Oscar
de la Hoya, who captured the top prize in the lightweight
division in Barcelona.
Four years later in Atlanta, light middleweight David Reid upset
Alfredo Duvergal of Cuba when he landed the most dramatic punch
in American Olympic boxing history. That straight right hand
avoided a potential U.S. boxing gold medal shutout, which has
not happened since 1948.
Over the last two years of the Olympic boxing movement, American
boxers have made the world take notice.
Mustin took 25 boxers to New York for the 1998 Goodwill Games
and the team came away with 12 medals -- two gold, six silver
and four bronze. At the 1999 World Championships, the U.S. team
beat out the vaunted Cuban squad to capture team honors.
Mustin has attributed the recent U.S. sucess with how the boxers
have adapted to the much debated electronic scoring system.
"We have been working on how to compete against the computer,
and not really different styles," Mustin said. "The last few
years we have been working on scoring against the computers.
Now, I like computer scoring.
"We got a handle on how to compete against the computer," he
added. "I like it better than the paper scoring. The kids have
been using the scoring pads and scoring themselves. They are
finding out what scoring blows are. We know that when the
scoring blows are in, nobody can take them out."
Three of the boxers that have benefited the most are Viloria,
Juarez and Bennett, who all have the ability to shine in Sydney.
Viloria has lived up to his billing. Over the last two years,
he has added maturity.
A two-time Junior Olympic Champion, Viloria tried for a third
straight title but lost in the semifinals and nearly quit the
sport. After taking some time off, Viloria had a breakout year
in 1999 as he won the U.S. and Golden Gloves championships.
He capped the year with an an impressive run in the World
Championships in Houston. In the 106-pound light flyweight
finals, Viloria avenged a defeat from the 1998 Goodwill Games
when he outboxed reigning Olympic champion Maikro Romero of
"I am not settling for any less than a gold," Viloria said.
"There are good fighters out there and I am going to do my best.
I am looking forward and predict I am going to bring home a
gold. For myself, and for my country -- no less than a gold,
that's been my dream."
Juarez hopes to repeat performance of his successful World
Championships run in Sydney.
The 20-year-old Juarez's middle name is "Rocky," in honor of
Rocky Marciano, the only heavyweight champion to retire
The Houston native is a two-time U.S. champion who got to fight
in his hometown during the World Championships. He breezed
through the international competition, defeating boxers from
Kazakhstan, Germany, Scotland, Turkey. In the finals, he bested
Turgunov Tulkunbay of Uzbekistan.
But all eyes will be on Bennett, the team captain. Two years
ago, he was released from prison after serving seven years for
"I didn't have any amateur background as far from boxing was
concerned," Bennett said, who learned to box during his stint in
prison. "I was a virtual nobody when I stepped on the scene. I
did OK my first time around and got better as time progressed."
|Reigning light flyweight amateur world champion Brian Viloria says he'll settle for nothing short of gold in Sydney.|
With limited amateur experience, Bennett placed second at the
U.S. Championships but his crowning moment came at the World
The Chicago native made it to the finals and was slated to fight
Cuban great Felix Savon, a six-time world champion who captured
gold medals in the last two Olympics. Bennett won in a walkover
when Savon did not fight as part of a protest by Cuban officials
of an earlier bout.
Bennett placed first at the 2000 U.S. Championships and defeated
1996 Olympic alternate and three-time U.S. champion Davarryl
Wiliamson in the finals of the trials and again in the U.S.
"I learned the fundamentals of Olympic-style boxing, which made
me a tougher opponent. I just have to take one step at a time,"
Bennett said. "Now, I am going to Sydney and hopefully with the
grace of God, I am going to win a gold medal."
The star of the team may be light welterweight Ricardo Williams.
The highly regarded 19-year-old southpaw from Cincinnati carries
In 1998, Williams placed first at U.S. Championships and
National Golden Gloves tournaments. He later captured a gold
medal at the Goodwill Games and was voted USA Boxing Athlete of
Williams was a repeat winner at the U.S. Championships in 1999
but suffered a disappointing second-round loss at the World
After taking six months off to regroup, Williams fought
brilliantly in the U.S. Olympic Team Trials, Boxoffs and the
Americas Olympic Qualifer.
"I always expected myself to go to Sydney, but making the team
was not my goal, winning the gold medal was my goal," Williams
said. "With all the hard work I have been doing and the
dedication, sacrifice, I expected myself to make the team. I
was hungry for it, and they put the plate in front of me and I
just ate the food."
Besides Viloria in the lower weight classes, flyweight Jose
Navarro and bantamweight Clarence Vinson have the talent and
skills to medal in Sydney.
The youngest member of the team, Navarro won a silver medal in
the 1999 Pan Am Games. The 19-year-old Californian is the
second youngest of 12 siblings and was the family's last hope
for a chance at Olympic glory.
"It means a lot to me because I have been waiting for this for a
long time. It's something big," Navarro said. "Just having my
brothers (Ignacio and two-time U.S. amateur champ Carlos) try
out (and fal short), the last chance was me. I have a lot of
confidence. I keep my dedication, and stay focused. I am going
to bring home a gold medal."
The 22-year-old Vinson is a three-time U.S. champion. The
native of Washington won consective U.S. championships as a
flyweight in 1997-98. The following year, he moved up to
bantamweight and captured his third title.
"I am going to win the gold medal. I know I am the best
119-pounder out there," Vinson said. "I don't feel nobody can
beat me. I feel that I am the best in this weight class. I am
willing to take on whoever is put up against me and I am going
to show them who is the best."
Vinson has vast international experience and was a member of the
1997 and 1999 U.S. World Championship teams. In 1996, Vinson
lost in a pre-Olympic qualifying tournament to eventual U.S.
Olympic representive Eric Morel in the 1996 Eastern Trials.
Light middleweight Jermain Taylor, middleweight Jeff Lacy and
light heavyweight Olanda Anderson have outside shots at medals.
"It has been a lot of trials and tribulations," said the
22-year-old Taylor, who is from Little Rock, Arkansas. "There
has been ups and downs. I lost some, I won some, but I have
learned to overcome."
Lacy, a compact slugger from St. Petersburg, Florida, has
two-fisted explosive power and a style that is more suited for
the pro ranks.
Anderson, a five-time Armed Forces champion, won U.S. titles in
1998 and 2000. The 6-2 southpaw from South Carolina lost in the
finals of the challengers bracket in an attempt for a spot on
the 1996 team.
"I didn't take it serious at first," said Anderson, who is an
Army sergeant. "But I decided to wait another four years and it
Anderson was a late addition to the team after the dismissal of
Michael Simms, one of four American to win gold at the 1999
Also a late addition is lightweight David Jackson, who made the
team after Marshall Martinez resigned for personal reasons.
Jackson was an alternate at the 1996 Atlanta Games and the 1997
U.S. lightweight amateur champion. But he was beset by personal
problems and injuries over the last couple of years. He worked
hard over the last half of 1999 and hopes to make the most of
his second chance.
"I have been blessed and I plan to take full advantage of it,"
Jackson said. "I was out of it for almost 2½ years. Every
day I just thank God."
Welterweight Dante Craig was a long shot to make the U.S. team
but his heart and work ethic enabled him to earn a spot.
Craig's three-week-old son died from a respiratory problem prior
to Olympic Trials but he stayed focused and undeterred. He
pulled off a huge upset when he beat two-time and reigning U.S.
champion LeChaunce Shepherd en route to the finals, where he
lost to pre-Olympic favorite and two-time U.S. champ Larry
But in the Boxoffs, Craig stunned Mosley by winning a pair of
closely fought battles. He also overcame a hand injury to
finish first in the Central American Qualifier in Tijuana,
Mexico to earn a berth in the Olympic games.
Super heavyweight Calvin Brock missed a berth on the 1996 team
when he lost to Nate Jones, who went on to win bronze in
Atlanta. The 6-2, 222-pound Brock has been a steady force in the
super heavyweight division but will be hard pressed to medal.
The U.S. and Cuba will be the only two countries with full
12-man squads at the Olympics. Mustin feels his team will reap
the rewards of their hard work.
"I think we are going to have a good team," Mustin said. "We are
not pushing any superstars. Everybody is going to work hard and
if they do their homework, everybody is going to do all right."
||I always expected myself to go to Sydney, but making the team was not my goal, winning the gold medal was my goal. ”
||— Ricardo Williams
Bennett getting a shot at redemption