Team USA is forced to bank on less being more for the second straight Olympic competition.
Six participants will represent the U.S. in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics which is due to take place this summer. A year-long delay in the quadrennial tournament came about due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, which also canceled the Boxing Road To Tokyo Americas qualifier which was scheduled to take place this week in Buenos Aries, Argentina.
Rashida Ellis, Virginia ‘Ginny’ Fuchs, Naomi Graham and Oshae Jones represent the female side of the squad, while Richard Torrez Jr. and Delante Johnson are the lone two male boxers to head to Tokyo.
For the second straight competition, the U.S. Olympic squad will be guided by Billy Walsh, head coach for USA Boxing who took the lead for Rio 2016.
“It is fantastic news for our six boxers who have worked endlessly for the past five years to become an Olympian,” Walsh noted in a statement upon announcement confirming Team USA. “We now focus on the next stage of the process, to become an Olympic Champion.”
In the absence of the Olympic qualifying tournament to have been held May 10-16, team selections were allotted through the Boxing Task Force rankings which awarded slots to the top 49-ranked fighters in the Americas.
The current crop is down from the eight male and female members who represented the U.S. five years ago in Rio. The 2016 squad proved to be quality over quantity, hauling in three medals including Claressa Shields winning her second straight Gold medal after doing so in London 2012, the first year to feature women’s boxing in the Olympics.
The onus is on Graham to continue American dominance in the middleweight field as the U.S. looks to claim a third straight Gold medal at the weight. The Fayetteville, North Carolina native was the highest ranked female middleweight among the Americas and eighth overall in the BTF rankings.
“It feels unreal that I am going to the Olympics,” said Graham. “I continue to surprise myself by finding my own limits, and then having the courage to blow past them.”
Houston’s Fuchs is among the team’s best shot at capturing Gold, having led a stellar amateur career that includes 1st place finishes in the 2019 Pan Am qualifiers and the 2020 U.S. Olympic Trials. She will represent the flyweight division, looking to bring home the division’s first Olympic medal for the U.S. since Marlen Esparza won Bronze in London 2012.
“I have been waiting for this moment for a very long time. I am so excited I can finally call myself an Olympian,” stated Fuchs, a close friend and frequent training stablemate of 2016 U.S. Olympian and reigning WBO junior lightweight champion Mikaela Mayer. “With all this world has been through and having to postpone the Olympics a whole year, I am proud to say I am one of the participants in what will be known as the most recognized Olympics in history.
“I am ready to represent my country in the most respected way and bring home the gold!”
Fuchs—who ranked second among flyweights in the Americas—will be featured later this month as part of ‘The Me You Can’t See,’ a documentary series focusing on mental health and presented by Oprah Winfrey and Prince Harry. The 33-year-old flyweight has been open about her years-long battle with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).
The remaining two female Olympians on Team USA look to cap their stellar amateur careers in grand style before joining their brothers in the pro ranks.
Like Fuchs, Ellis also ranked second among Americas in her weight division. The 25-year-old from Lynn, Massachusetts will represent the U.S. as a lightweight, where Mayer fought in the 2016 Rio Olympics.
“Qualifying for the Olympics has been one of my deepest dreams,” stated Ellis, whose older brother Rashidi Ellis is a current rising welterweight who fights under the Golden Boy Promotions banner. “I never doubt my ability. I have stopped being afraid of what could go wrong and start being excited about what could go right. So, I embrace my mistakes and learn from them, as my mistakes have helped me improve and reach the Olympics. I don’t do easy; I make things happen.
“The hard work and dedication, with effort and determination, I can succeed.”
Jones makes the squad as a welterweight in the first Olympic year to feature the weight division on the female side. The 23-year-old from Toledo was the top-ranked welterweight in the Americas, a feat aided by her Gold medal haul in the 2019 Pan Am Games.
“I may only take up one spot, but my one spot represents so much,” insists Jones, whose brother Otha Jones III fights under the Matchroom Boxing USA banner as a lightweight. “I’m beyond grateful for the chance to represent women, African Americans, my small city of Toledo, but most importantly, my country.”
Just two men represent the U.S. this year, down from six in 2016 which was a previous record low. Of the six, Shakur Stevenson (Silver medal) and Nico Hernandez (Bronze medal) managed to bring home hardware, avoiding a repeat of 2012 which saw the men’s team shut out at the medal table.
Team USA will be represented on the male side at welterweight and super heavyweight.
Cleveland’s Johnson enters as a welterweight, marking the fourth consecutive Olympics where his city proudly sends a boxer to the amateur game’s highest stage. The 22-year old follows the lead of Charles Conwell (2016), Terrel Gausha (2012) and Raynell Williams (2008), hoping to go deeper in competition than was the case for each of the aforementioned.
““My struggles are my stripes, and I wear them on my back, so that the people around me can see that even when you’re living in a jungle, you can still chase your dreams,” stated Johnson, a 2016 Youth World Champion. “I am not only doing this for my city, but for my two coaches, Dante Benjamin Sr. and Clint Martin, whom I lost during my journey to these Games.”
Torrez earns his slot as the highest ranked Americas super heavyweight, the first from the U.S. to fight at this weight since former two-time heavyweight title challenger Dominic Breazeale in 2012. The highly touted amateur from Tulare, California—who turns 22 in June—was a top-five finisher at the 2019 Elite World Championships and won a Bronze medal in the 2019 Pan Am Games.
“Everyone is happy they’re going to the Olympics, it’s everyone’s dream, but I need to be there,” said Torrez. “The fire that was instilled in me before I could even walk, that drives me to be the best, the fire that has been in my family for generations, has overflowed. It has set ablaze all my second options, and it has made ashes of any other possibility besides that of success.”
The six-person team represents the fewest boxing participants for the U.S. since 1936, which only saw two Americans compete—Louis Laurie (flyweight) and Jack Wilson (bantamweight) both of whom medalled.
Despite calls for the cancellation of this summer’s competition, the Tokyo Olympics remain on course to run July 23-August 8 and with extreme social distancing measures in place. The first day of boxing competition is set for July 24.
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox