Family looms large in US boxer Gary Russell's Olympic quest
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) They are four fighting brothers, each proudly bearing a version of their father's name. They strategize and train and compete together out of their Maryland gym, relentlessly applying teamwork to a profoundly individual sport.
''We believe in dynasty,'' said Gary Russell Jr., the oldest member of this fighting fraternity.
And eight years after Gary Jr. left the Beijing Olympics without throwing a punch, felled by an unsuccessful weight cut, youngest brother Gary Antuanne Russell is headed to Rio de Janeiro to make it right.
The U.S. team's light welterweight has coveted a medal since he watched his brother's failed attempt in 2008. He wants the Russell name to be associated with Olympic greatness before he joins Gary Jr., the WBC featherweight champion, in the pros.
Gary Jr. wants Antuanne, who often goes by his middle name for obvious reasons, to fight in Brazil for himself, not his family.
Antuanne doesn't really see a difference.
''I got the luxury to see what he did bad and what he did correct on this journey that we're on,'' Antuanne said. ''I see the mistakes he made, and I see it in all of my older brothers. I get to make corrections. I should be more pure at the end of everything. I believe that they've given me a certain desire, a certain integrity and higher morals. It's made me a stronger person.''
These Russells make no small plans and no minor pronouncements.
While Gary Jr. fashioned a 27-1 professional career and won his title belt last year, he closely monitored the development of 20-year-old Antuanne, now a year removed from being the valedictorian of his high school.
''He has the ability to be better than every last one of us,'' Gary Jr. said recently while his brother worked out at the Olympic Training Center. ''He's the youngest. He gets to see. I was the first prototype, and you see the outcome of what we do. My younger brother under me, of course we're going to give him everything it is that I have, and then build on top of that. I feel as though he has much more to offer than we did.''
Gary Jr. spent two weeks in Colorado with Antuanne before the U.S. team's departure for Rio last week, putting his brother through hours of extra workouts beyond his daily grind with the American coaches. Both Russell brothers still rely on Gary Sr., who also went to Colorado Springs for extra work before Antuanne's departure.
Gary Jr. collapsed the night before his Olympic weigh-in eight years ago, unable to cut the final ounces necessary to compete at the 119-pound limit.
''I was definitely one of the favorites, but it wasn't my calling to compete in the Olympic Games,'' Gary Jr. said. ''My younger brother, of course he feels that he's living through me to a certain extent by avenging everything that happened, but I don't want him to do that. I want him to live for him. When he wins, we all win.''
The brothers followed strikingly similar paths to reach the games. Both lost their first bouts at the Olympic trials and had to fight their way back in the difficult challengers' bracket to claim their berths. They attribute that mental toughness to the years spent together in training along with Gary Antonio, a 7-0 pro, and Gary Allan, who now corners Gary Jr.
''We're competing, but it's an unspoken thing,'' Antuanne said. ''Not on a negative tip, but just wanting to be better, wanting to improve ourselves, and I think that's amazing, how that works. It's weird, but it works.''
While the similarities between the oldest and youngest fighting Russells are striking, the differences are clear. Antuanne, thicker and more imposing than his speedy, leonine brother, fights at 141 pounds, 15 more than his older brother's current featherweight limit.
But their cerebral, comprehensive approach to boxing is similar, and Gary Jr. thinks that Antuanne's ring smarts aren't completely due to training.
''That's a genetic thing,'' Gary Jr. said. ''That's something that's inherited. And it's not just the boxing information that's inherited and being passed down. Boxing is something that we do. It's not who we are. It's a big difference.''
Antuanne expects to turn pro shortly after the Olympics, and the brothers already anticipate fighting on the same cards. Antuanne's style will translate well to the pro game because his big brother has already refined it for challenges ahead far beyond Rio.
But first, Antuanne has to finish the fight that his brother started.
''I want to be a hero, like he's been to me,'' Antuanne said. ''He set the bar. I could have won a Golden Gloves tournament and just been content, but I'm not fine with that. I want to reach all of these high expectations.''