It’s easy to take things for granted when they happen so regularly.
For the United States, Olympic Gold medals were something one could take for granted for a long time. Sometimes, the men’s boxing team would win more.
They rarely left without one until it became a new normal.
All time, the United States still stands as the all time leader in men’s and women’s boxing with the most of everything: the most gold medals (50), the most silver (24), the most bronze (40), and the most overall (114).
Those accomplishments were largely compiled in the 20th century and can’t be divorced from the last twenty-five years. Since David Reid’s one-punch save in 1996, the US Olympic men have won only a single gold (Andre Ward, 2004) while the women have added two more thanks to Claressa Shields in 2012 and 2016. If we go all the way back to 1992, we’ll find 45 of the 50 US Gold medals in the bag by 1988.
In 2000, 2008, 2012, and 2016, the men’s gold medal count didn’t budge.
1988 was also one of the last times Olympic boxing was a real centerpiece sport in network coverage. Perceived corruption, appeals to a broader audience, and less US success made it all to easy to move boxing to ‘extended coverage.’
For those who remained interested in Olympic boxing, the evolution of coverage has had its upsides. There is more boxing to watch in 2021 than there has ever been with every bout streamed online and daily highlights on the USA network.
It’s not quite the same as NBC prime time.
There have been some who got close to snaring Gold. Ricardo Williams and Rocky Juarez left the 2000 Games with silver and Shakur Stevenson came up one win short in 2016 with some additional bronze medalists along the way.
It’s nothing to be ashamed of.
It’s just not quite what it used to be on the men’s side of the brackets.
The value of the Olympics as a glimpse of boxing’s US future remains.
Several of the medal-winning men named so far have gone on to excellent careers. Andre Ward is headed to the Hall of Fame, Taylor won the undisputed middleweight crown, and others have won various titles along the way. Others whose Olympic runs fell short of the podium like Errol Spence, Jose Ramirez, Joseph Diaz, Jamel Herring, and Demetrius Andrade are in the thick of their professional divisions right now.
Still, it’s hard to ignore the feeling of tradition connecting Olympic gold and professional glory. The US gold medal ranks have more than their share of historically significant professionals. Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, George Foreman, Sugar Ray Leonard, Michael Spinks, Pernell Whitaker, and Oscar De La Hoya will jump off the page for most living fans. Fidel LaBarba, Frankie Genaro, and Jackie Fields are names history buffs can cast a knowing nod toward.
Ward added to the ground they laid. Ward also stands alone in the 21st century among Olympic men. Will this be the year he gets some company?
Already well into the round of 16 at the 2021 Games, the US is still in several hunts on the men’s and women’s side. Regular readers here at BoxingScene are getting their annual dose of extensive coverage from Jake Donovan as the race for gold proceeds. Here’s where things stand.
Three of five women are alive with the chance to expand on the fondation Shields left behind since women joined the Games in boxing 2012. Only six Gold Medals have been awarded since with Shields and the UK’s Nicola Adams both winning two apiece. Virginia Fuchs (flyweight), Rashida Ellis (lightweight), and Oshae Jones (welterweight) all remain in position to give the US history’s gold medal lead among women before 2021 is over.
And the women don’t have a streak to break.
All five men remain alive and they do.
The allowance of qualified, fledgling professionals to join the team increased chances greatly. Duke Ragan (featherweight), Keyshawn Davis (lightweight), and Troy Isley (middleweight) seized the chance at the Olympic spotlight, putting aside their punch for pay aspirations long enough to try to complete the goals they would have been pursuing a summer ago if not for COVID. Ragan is one win away from the medal stand with the quarterfinals looming. They are joined by Delante Johnson (welterweight) and Richard Torrez Jr. (super heavyweight).
Making the Olympics remains an honor and making it as far as they have more than makes their country proud. The same is true for anyone, in any nation, who makes it to this unique world stage. It doesn’t mean the top of the podium isn’t the best place to be.
The chance to break a streak of three consecutive Games without men’s Gold is still within reach and there’s no reason to think one is the highest ceiling to hope for. It makes boxing at the games every bit as worthy of US viewer attention as any other sport.
Time will tell how long, and how many, keep punching their way toward a bigger headline.
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, a member of the International Boxing Research Organization, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America.