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this is serious business
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2012 London Olympics: what countries will win the most medals in boxing?
Who are the best amateur boxers competing in the 2012 Olympics?
What countries do you think will win the most medals in boxing?
Cuba, known to pack the mightiest punch in Olympic boxing during the past half century, arrived in Beijing with its most vulnerable squad in recent memory after a string of defections stung the team like a Teofilo Stevenson right hook.
For the first time in 40 years, Cuba did not qualify a boxer in all 11 Olympic weight classes.
In the past two years, the Cuban team lost five gold medallists from the 2004 Athens Olympics and a 2005 world champion. Four defected and are boxing professionally, one was punished for attempting to flee, and another retired.
The island boasts an illustrious lineage of boxers, and the sport has long been a source of pride - and a political propaganda tool - for the Cuban government.
Fidel Castro banned professional boxing in 1962, calling it corrupt and exploitive. Boxers in Cuba were then restricted to amateur competition, and many of them fought into their early 30s while their contemporaries from other countries moved on to pro careers.
Of Cuba's 65 Olympic gold medals, 32 were won by boxers. The number would be even higher had Cuba not boycotted the 1984 and 1988 Olympics.
An Olympic title was once the ultimate prize for a Cuban boxer, and champions such as Stevenson and Felix Savon, who won three gold medals each, were held up by Castro as national heroes who spurned millions of dollars to remain in Cuba and fight for patriotism and socialism.
When boxing promoter Don King offered Savon a contract reported to be $10m, Savon said, "Why would I box for a $1m when I can fight for 10 million Cuban people?"
But the deteriorating economic conditions in Cuba and a changing attitude among some young athletes led to the exodus after the 2004 Olympics.
"Gold medals are wonderful, but athletes can't eat their gold medals," said Miami-based boxing trainer Roberto Quesada, who coached in Cuba from 1980 to 1991 before defecting.
Three of the reigning Olympic champions - heavyweight Odlanier Solis, flyweight Yuriorkis Gamboa and light flyweight Yan Barthelemy - sold their medals to buy food for their families in Cuba and then bolted from a team training camp in Venezuela in December 2006.
They signed pro contracts with a German promoter. Gamboa and Barthelemy train under Quesada in Miami, and all three were undefeated as pros until Saturday night, when Barthelemy lost.
Bantamweight champ Guillermo Rigondeaux was dropped from the Cuban squad after trying to defect during the 2007 Pan American Games in Brazil. Lightweight gold medallist Mario Kindelan retired. And 2005 welterweight world champion Erislandy Lara, whose plan to defect with Rigondeaux was botched, left Cuba on a speedboat to Mexico in May and recently signed a pro contract in Germany.
"The circumstances force you to make sacrifices, and it's a shame," Barthelemy said. "In the old days, Olympic athletes were well taken care of and lived a more privileged life in Cuba, but things had gotten so bad that we weren't much better off than anyone else. I was worrying about food for my family. The only difference was that we got to travel and see how the rest of the world lives.
"I will always be Cuban and proud of my heritage, but I had to follow my dream."
Unlike Cuban teams of the past, which were loaded with veterans, this group has limited international experience. Only two - lightweight Yordenis Ugas and heavyweight Osmay Acosta - are considered gold-medal favourites.
The team did not travel to Chicago for the 2007 world championships because Cuban officials feared more defections.
"We will not expose a Cuban team again to the excesses and provocations that in this case would occur in Chicago, in US territory, an ideal location for merchants and traffickers to act freely with the complicity of US authorities," the Cuban federation said in a statement at the time.
Quesada said participating in the world championships is excellent preparation for the Olympics because boxers learn to pace themselves in a tournament that lasts two weeks and make weight five or six times, which is different from preparing for one bout. They also can scout the competition.
"I wouldn't say the Cuban boxers are weak, because even when they lose great fighters, there are other ones coming up behind them, but this team is not as experienced as they've been before," said US assistant boxing coach Mike Stafford, who trains Olympian Rau'shee Warren.
"And the defections might continue because kids are more aware of the world now with the internet. Promoters are going after those Cuban kids, and it's hard to keep them from chasing their dream.
"The government took care of Felix Savon, and he was very loyal, but those were different times. I have trouble keeping kids amateur in my gym, so imagine how hard it is in Cuba."
Cuban sports officials are cautiously optimistic about their chances. They are not talking about medal predictions, except to say they want Cuba to finish in the top 10 overall among all nations, which it has done in five of the past six Olympics in which it participated. The Cubans slipped to 11th place in Athens four years ago.
"We have completely renovated the team," boxing coach Pedro Roque told reporters in Havana. "We can't talk at this moment about grand goals or compare them with the Athens team - this team will enjoy their experience in the ring without thinking about medals."
In a recent Prensa Latina report, Cuba Boxing Federation president Jose Barrientos said, "The situation today is very similar to that of Barcelona 1992, when we arrived with no Olympic experience due to our absence in Los Angeles 1984 and Seoul 1988 and returned with seven gold medals."
Other Cuban teams have also been affected by defections.
Seven members of the Cuban Under-23 soccer team fled from a Tampa hotel in March while competing in the Olympic qualifying tournament.
The team was left with only 12 players, and it did not advance to Beijing.
The Cuban judo team suffered a big blow when two-time world champion and Olympic gold-medal favourite Yurisel Laborde, a bronze medallist in Athens, deserted the team in Miami.
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I know America will have the most medals for the entire Olympic Games at least. America's amateur program is struggling a bit, but still has the best professionals hands down.
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Nobody cares about Amateur boxing anymore, anyway. The scoring system is absolutely f*cking terrible and it makes the sport unwatchable, IMO. Good luck to all the amateur boxers going to London this year, but like the rest of the world - I won't be watching you.
Come see me when you're pro.
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Find an article comparing cuba to the world, not to itself
It's actually the U.S that have the most medals in boxing lol
On a boat, beeeeotch!
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Ukraine has two really good fighters coming into the games, Cuba should be up there as well. The UK isn't a nation, but there will certainly be a strong bias, like there was in China for their fighters.
As for the American team, they have a chance to do very well. The team they are sending to this Olympics is probably their most talented since 1996. Not sure how many medals that equates to, but they will certainly do better than they did China.
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