From his perch in the lower bowl of the Mobile Civic Center, amid a mere couple of hundred spectators who had filtered in to watch the U.S. men's boxing trials for the 2012 Olympics last week, Joe Zanders studied the action with an analytical eye. This was his mess now. USA Boxing, which once produced Olympic medalists in bunches, has stumbled into a precipitous decline. The medal count: four in 2000, two in '04 and just one in '08. Enter Zanders, a longtime amateur trainer from Long Beach, Calif., who was hired as U.S. national coach in January with a mandate to rebuild the program. "There has been a lack of development and commitment to fundamentals," says Zanders. "This is a business. We have to get to work."
Zanders plans to break from past practices. Before the 2008 Games, the U.S. sequestered the team in Colorado Springs for 10 months. That move created a contentious relationship between the national coaches and the fighters' personal trainers, many of whom felt shut out. Things got worse in Beijing, where boxers often heard conflicting advice from the official coaches in the corner and their own mentors in the crowd. The 2012 team will hold several two- or three-week training camps in Colorado, and Zanders has made it clear that personal coaches will be more involved. "We have to collaborate with them and make them a part of Team USA," he says.
Finding better competition in the run-up to the Games is another priority. One plan is to recruit top-level pros—rising stars Nonito Donaire and Adrien Broner are on the list—to spar with team members. Seeking improved foreign competition, the USOC has tentatively approved a three-stop tour of China, Russia and Eastern Europe early next year that will give the U.S. team valuable international experience.
Finally, to assist Zanders the USOC brought in Hall of Fame trainer Freddie Roach. Last month, Roach spent three days working with 2008 Olympians Rau'shee Warren and Raynell Williams at his gym in Los Angeles. Roach will consult regularly with Zanders and says he will make fighters in his stable—including Manny Pacquiao—available for sparring.
August 14, 2011
Roach's presence will ratchet up expectations. Zanders, however, sees the team as a work in progress. The 2012 roster (composed of the 10 weight-class winners in Mobile, each of whom must now earn a spot in London through a top showing at this fall's worlds in Baku, Azerbaijan) has several medal contenders (box), but the primary objective is building a foundation for the future. USA Boxing hopes, beginning next year, to hold national tournaments for athletes as young as 10, with an eye toward molding the next generation of Olympians. "We're not where our team should be," says Zanders. "We have the talent. Now we have to have the work ethic to get the job done."
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Ten boxers made the 2012 U.S. squad. Here are four to watch in the Games.
RAU'SHEE WARREN, flyweight
Freddie Roach likens Warren's speed and power to Manny Pacquiao's. A 2004 and '08 Olympian, Warren, 24, will be among the favorites in London.
MICHAEL HUNTER, heavyweight
The flashy Hunter dropped to 201 pounds after failing to make the '08 team as a super heavy. He brings an impressive pedigree: sparring partner for Wladimir Klitschko and son of former heavyweight contender Mike Hunter.
JESSE HART, middleweight
Trained by 1996 U.S. Olympic coach Al Mitchell, the rangy, 6'3" Hart cruised through the trials behind a long jab and thudding inside power.
JOSE RAMIREZ, lightweight
A hard-hitting boxer-puncher, Ramirez (below) beat '08 Olympian Raynell Williams twice to earn the berth.