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Boxing

Once off the boxing map, Gausha making most of chance in London

LONDON -- To even the most dedicated follower of USA Boxing, Terrell Gausha (guh-SHAY) is something of an unknown. At 5-foot-10, he doesn't present an imposing physique for a middleweight. He isn't ranked among the top-30 165-pounders in the world by the IABA, due largely to a lack of international experience. He needed a late surge, culminating with a gold medal at the America's Qualifiers last May, just to earn a spot on the U.S. team.

He's here though, an accomplishment that a year ago appeared to be little more than a pipe dream. In 2009, Gausha was a rising prospect, a savage body puncher with slippery defense, the reigning national champion with dreams -- realistic ones -- of Olympic gold.

Success came quickly for Gausha. Then, just as quickly, it nearly slipped away.

Gausha can't pinpoint what specifically caused his career to unravel. He lost a couple of close fights -- most notably a narrow, 3-2 decision in the 2010 Golden Gloves final -- that sucked some of the fun out of the sport. He had a two-year old daughter, Ty'era, who caused him to worry that his part-time job working at a gas station would not be enough to provide for her. Training became laborious. He joined the Memphis Force with the World Series of Boxing but his heart just wasn't in it. By early 2011, his svelte, 165-pound body ballooned to a doughy 208-pounds. For all intents and purposes, Gausha had fallen off the national map. When the 2011 National Championships came around, Gausha didn't even bother entering.

"I just had a lot of stuff going on," Gausha said. "I had some discipline problems. I had a bad diet that made it hard to make 165 pounds. I had a daughter. I thought about getting a real job and quitting boxing. I just wasn't into it."

Opportunity is a funny thing though; it often reveals itself when least expected. When presumptive middleweight Olympian Jesse Hart lost early at the 2011 World Championships, USA Boxing re-opened the competition for the spot. Gausha saw it as a sign. He re-joined the WSB, this time with the Los Angeles Matadords and rededicated himself. Out went fast food, fried food and eating after 7:30. In was chicken, fish, vegetables and long, daily runs.

"I had to make it work," Gausha said. "It was my last chance."

Refocused, Gausha quickly regained his old form. He entered the National Championships last March, unseeded, and won six fights in seven days, the last a narrow, 3-2 decision win over Hart. In May, Gausha traveled to Brazil, where he qualified for the Olympics and claimed his first international gold medal with a crushing 16-5 win over Puerto Rico's Enrique Collazo.

"I don't know what he did or who mentored him [before] but he has come a long way," said USA Boxing assistant coach Charles Leverette. "He's very focused. Honestly, it's hard to get a smile out of him. I'm a jokester, 24-7, and it's tough to make him smile. He is just so mission oriented."

On Saturday, Gausha faced lanky 6-foot-1 Armenian Andranik Hakobyan in the first round. He lost the first round 4-3. The second finished in a 4-4 tie. The third round looked headed for another paper-close finish. But with under 10 seconds to go, Gausha dropped Hakobyan with an overhand right. When Hakobyan got up, Gausha put him down with another right. When Hakobyan looked wobbly getting up, the referee waved off the fight.

The ending was controversial: The clock appeared to have run out before the second knockdown, which would have negated the knockout and sent the fight to the scorecards. But Gausha left the ring with his first Olympic win.

"I had to leave it all in the ring," Gausha said. "I didn't want to have any excuses, or say I could have done something more."

Next up for Gausha is India's Vijender Singh, a fight Gausha says he expects to be more relaxed, more ready for. No American middleweight has won the gold medal since Michael Spinks in 1976 but Gausha believes he has the talent to do it. Others do too.

"He looked good, not great," Leverette said. "I just don't think he has peaked yet. There's so much more he can do. That's scary for them, good for us."

Diaz moves on: Marching with your country in the Opening Ceremony is a big part of the Olympic experience, one many, if not most, athletes look forward to. Joseph Diaz was one of them. But because of the late start time (8 p.m. local time) Diaz, a bantamweight who was scheduled to fight the first match of the Games on Saturday afternoon, elected to skip it.

"I knew i had to get my rest," Diaz said. "I'm not here for the opening ceremony, I'm here for the gold medal."

Diaz got off to a good start on Saturday, overwhelming Ukraine's Pavlo Ishchenko to cruise to a 19-9 victory and advance into the second round. After a slow start, Diaz came on in the second and third rounds, blitzing Ishchenko with flurries and straight left hands.

"I felt like he got a little tired (in the third round) and I felt like I was just getting started," Diaz said. "The first round I ended up winning but I wasn't really throwing as much. In the second round, I picked it up and in the third round, and I picked it up even more and that gave me the W."

Next up for Diaz: a showdown with top seeded Cuban Lazaro Alvarez on Wednesday. Diaz has a history with Alavarez. He dropped a 19-10 decision to the Cuban star at the 2011 World Championships. Diaz says he will use a completely different game plan this time, one he believes will close the gap.

"I felt like I could have done much more the last time," Diaz said. "This time, I'm going to give him a good fight."

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