Olympic road starts at National Golden Gloves
by David Mayo | The Grand Rapids Press
Sunday May 04, 2008, 12:30 AM
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Both Floyd Mayweather, left, and Oscar De La Hoya won National Golden
Gloves titles in the first year of a four-year Olympic qualifying cycle.
GRAND RAPIDS -- To identify the next U.S. Olympic boxing team -- not this
year's Beijing team, which was selected last year, but the 2012 London team --
the absolute best time and place to start is this week at DeVos Place. The
National Golden Gloves Tournament of Champions has flooded downtown,
where it will dominate the landscape Monday through Saturday, serving
prodigies, proving the unproven, and establishing pecking orders. The year
after Olympic selections is the best time to witness National Golden Gloves,
because there are no prima donnas for 2012. 2008 OLYMPIANS Though none of
the 11 U.S. Olympic boxers headed for Beijing will compete here, five of them
won National Golden Gloves: • Luis Yanez, 19, light flyweight, Duncanville,
Texas (2006-07) -- Won consecutive national titles in both Golden Gloves and
the U.S. Championships, all in amateur boxing's lightest division. • Gary Russell
Jr., 19, bantamweight, Washington (2005) -- Won National Golden Gloves in the
same weight class, and followed by winning U.S. Championships in 2006 and
2007.
• Sadam Ali, 19, lightweight, New York (2006-07) -- Was a junior world champion
before winning national titles at featherweight, then lightweight.
• Demetrius Andrade, 20, welterweight, Providence, R.I. (2006-07) -- Won both
nationals at the same weight, and might have won a third consecutive U.S. title
if not for a 2007 medical disqualification.
• Deontay Wilder, 22, heavyweight, Tuscaloosa, Ala. (2007) -- Stands 6-feet-7, but
weighs only 198 pounds, and swept last year's National Golden Gloves and U.S.
Championships.
Just prima donna aspirants. You won't see a single Beijing Olympian here. They
are sequestered in Colorado, steered into specific international meets to tune
up for August in China, and most assuredly directed far away from this next
batch of young guns and the inherent risks of an in-house embarrassment.
Sure, a few young boxers here this week were accompished juniors who
expect similar results after turning 16, the minimum age for open tournaments
such as Golden Gloves. And for every correct one, the road to 2012 will be
strewn with a half-dozen other junior champions who never break through as
opens, much less get to touch that team jacket with five embroidered rings.
The year after the Olympic qualifier is open competition in every sense. It is a
free-for-all to catch USA Boxing's attention, and to determine how four seasons
of Olympic pursuit start to take shape. The phenomenon of great athletes
winning National Golden Gloves in the first year of a four-year Olympic
qualifying cycle started with Sugar Ray Leonard in 1973, and has included some
of the biggest names in boxing since, including Grand Rapids' Floyd
Mayweather and his archrival Oscar De La Hoya. The reasons it didn't happen
before then are myriad, but centered on two things: U.S. teams typically weren't
solidified until close to the Olympics, so many boxers couldn't envision wasting
three years chasing that ghost; and the value of television exposure through
Olympic boxing did not translate to professional riches like it would just a few
years later. Therefore, many honorable pro heavyweights of the golden-era
1960s won National Golden Gloves in the first year after the Olympics, only to
turn pro immediately -- names like Sonny Liston (1953), Ernie Terrell (1957),
Jimmy Ellis (1961) and Jerry Quarry (1965). Television changed everything.
Leonard became National Golden Gloves champion at 16, less than a year after
the popular 1972 U.S. Olympic boxing team -- which featured seven Golden
Gloves champions on its 11-man roster -- generated just one gold medalist, Ray
Seales, but enormous viewer appeal. At 20, Leonard became the first National
Golden Gloves champion to wait three years before striking gold, and the
method of Olympic pursuit changed with him. No 2008 U.S. Olympian won
National Golden Gloves in the first year of the Olympic cycle, and none is
entered in this tournament. But five of the 11 won in the interim.
OLYMPIC QUALIFIERS
The number of National Golden Gloves champions who have qualified for each
U.S. Olympic team. The number in parentheses indicates total Olympic team
members, which varied based on expansion and contraction of amateur weight
divisions:
• 2008 -- 5 (11)
• 2004 -- 3 (11)
• 2000 -- 6 (12)
• 1996 -- 6 (12)
• 1992 -- 6 (12)
• 1988 -- 5 (12)
• 1984 -- 6 (12)
• 1980* -- 8 (11)
• 1976 -- 6 (11)
• 1972 -- 7 (11)
• 1968 -- 2 (10)
• 1964 -- 0 (10)
• 1960 -- 3 (10)
• 1956 -- 3 (10)
• 1952 -- 3 (10)
• 1948 -- 0 (8)
• 1936 -- 5 (8)
* -- U.S. Olympic boycott
Beginning with the 1972 Olympics, through the upcoming 2008 Games -- a span
of 10 Olympics, including the 1980 boycott squad -- more than half of all U.S.
Olympic boxers have been National Golden Gloves champions. Golden Gloves
is the nation's most recognizable amateur boxing brand, though not treated as
such in practical application. It ranks second to the U.S. Championships among
the three major annual national tournaments, and by the time next year's
tournament rolls around, early 2012 Olympic candidates will be earmarked, and
international opportunities invariably will detour some away from Golden
Gloves. Even in years like 2007, when Golden Gloves champions earned one of
eight spots per weight division in the U.S. Olympic Trials, five other spots
already had been decided, which deprived the tournament of several elite
boxers. Still, it holds true in many quarters -- including here -- that if you never
won Golden Gloves, you never won anything. For now, there are no fast tracks
to London in 2012. The best way to find one is by engaging the fight in Grand
Rapids.