By David Epstein, SI.com
BEIJING -- The U.S. boxing team lost one of its leading medal contenders on Friday morning when bantamweight Gary Russell Jr. missed the Olympic weigh-in hours after losing consciousness in his Olympic Village dorm room, possibly from dehydration.
"Gary, he was pushing to make weight," said U.S. Olympic boxing coach Dan Campbell. "At some point in the middle of the night we found him unconscious."
Russell's roommate, light flyweight Luis Yanez, found the 20-year-old Russell and told staff members at the village. Medical personnel revived Russell and gave him intravenous fluids. Russell's condition improved, but he was unable to attend the Friday weigh-in at a Beijing hotel.
Because of the heat and humidity in Beijing, U.S. team staffers have been encouraging their fighters to drink lots of water, but Russell had apparently been more focused on getting down to his division's 119-pound limit.
"We became alarmed a couple days ago because he wasn't sweating like he was supposed to," said Campbell, who noted that U.S. boxers this week "have done a lot of [training] work in the morning and it's hot in the morning."
Asked about how Russell was doing, Campbell said, "He's extremely depressed. Medically, he's cleared. There's a doctor checking on him every hour. ... He wants to go home."
Russell hadn't competed at 119 pounds since the world championships in Chicago last fall. He has fought at 125 pounds or more in every test event and dual meet since, but Campbell and Russell both thought he would have no trouble making weight.
The Americans have been working out in a university gymnasium in Beijing where the excessive air conditioning has been a bit of an annoyance for the boxers, who likes their gyms hotter to facilitate sweating.
The U.S. team has just eight remaining boxers, its smallest contingent since the 1948 London Olympics. World champions Demetrius Andrade and Rau'shee Warren both made weight Friday.
"We thought he was a very good shot at a medal," Campbell said. "We try to tell the team when we have these types of adversities, we still have eight guys in there, and we're going to try to concentrate on what we've got."
The team must move on without Russell, perhaps its most charismatic and one of its most exciting fighters. Though just a bantamweight, Russell had the third strongest punch on the U.S. team when he was tested in Colorado Springs.
Ever since he was a 2-year-old prodigy putting on shadowboxing shows at fight clubs in Washington D.C., Russell has dreamed of wearing an Olympic medal even more than a pro career.
"I've just always thought winning a gold medal would mean more than being a world champion, or winning all that money, or anything," Russell told The Associated Press last month. "There's just something about it."
That dream was almost derailed at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials in 2007, when Russell lost his first round fight to Roberto Marroquin and landed in the challenger's bracket of the tournament. From there, Russell had to fight six more times in six days. He won all six, defeating Marroquin 18-14 on the last day to make the team. Only three other boxers have ever made the Olympic team out of the challenger's bracket: Evander Holyfield, Floyd Mayweather Jr., and Roy Jones Jr.
Russell knew he was fortunate (and good) and was excited to use the Olympic platform to showcase his golden smile and sharp wit, and to make a name for himself before turning pro.
"A lot of people on the team are really good," Russell said during a training session at Brooklyn's famed Gleason's Gym last month. And then, with a broad grin: "but some are more marketable than others."