Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network)-
Casual fans of professional boxing will be surprised to see the sport in its Olympic format, with rules and a style vastly different than what one might see in a Saturday night fight.
In the Olympics, bouts consist of four two-minute rounds with a one minute break between each round. A score is marked only when a fighter strikes his opponent at the front part of the head or the upper torso, above the belt- line.
The force of a blow and its effect on an opponent has no bearing on the official scoring. Therefore, a knockdown is scored only as a single hit and does not necessarily make the fighter a winner of that round. However, if a fighter is knocked down three times in a single round or four times during the bout, action is halted.
In order for the score to be registered, at least three of the five Olympic judges must acknowledge the hit within one second of each other by pushing a button.
And it doesn't get any easier to understand after that.
The winner of the fight is determined by the total number of valid points at the end of the fourth round. If there is a tie in points, then the best and worst total score registered by the five judges is deducted and the winner is the fighter with the most points left from the three remaining judges.
Only male boxers between the ages of 17 and 34 are eligible for participation in the Olympics. Beards are against regulations, and moustaches cannot be longer than the upper lip.
Competition will last 15 days, from August 14-29, at the Peristeri Olympic Boxing Hall.
A total of 286 athletes will compete in the boxing event and there are 11 different divisions, light flyweight (48kg), flyweight (51kg), bantamweight (54kg), featherweight (57kg), lightweight (60kg), light welterweight (64kg), welterweight (69kg), middleweight (75kg), light heavyweight (81kg), heavyweight (91kg) and super heavyweight (+91kg).
Boxing first appeared in the Olympics -- like so many other events, as a demonstration sport -- at the St. Louis Games in 1904. It became a medal sport in London in 1908, and since then Americans have won 47 gold medals.
|Unbeaten since 1998, light heavyweight Andre Ward plans on bringing home the gold medal. |
But the U.S. has won just four golds since taking home an impressive nine while dominating the 1984 Games in Los Angeles.
Americans won four medals in Sydney in 2000: Rocky Juarez (featherweight) and Ricardo Williams (light welterweight) won silver, while Clarence Vinson (bantamweight) and Jermain Taylor (light middleweight) took home bronze. That total was down from the six medals Americans won in Atlanta in 1996.
And with much of the international boxing talent now coming from countries like Cuba, the U.S. team looks to be facing an uphill battle on the way to gold in Athens. But don't tell the American fighters that.
Unbeaten since 1998, light heavyweight Andre Ward knows the Americans aren't favored to make a splash this summer. But he plans on bringing home gold anyway.
"I'm not worried about any of us. We all have the talent to win a gold medal. We just can't slip up. We can't lose focus," Ward said of his fellow American boxers.
"You have to be careful that your main focus is not to just make the team, but to go to the Olympics, represent your country and win a gold medal. Your primary focus has to be 'I haven't done anything yet. Let me stay focused and let me go get this gold medal.' Talent-wise, we're ahead of the game. We've got a lot of raw, God-given talent. Mentally, I believe we've got to step it up. When I say mentally, I mean all the way around the board."
Aside from the tough international competition, the biggest challenge for some of the fighters will be the international format and style.
"I have a professional style, but I've learned how to speed my style up due to the points system and things like that," Ward said. "I can't waste any time. None of us can waste any time. We don't have time to pose, we don't have time to wait for our opponent to make a move. We have to jump first, we have to make the first move."
In the Olympics, boxers must also be aware of their position in the ring, aware of their proximity to the three judges so that official blows can be seen clearly. They must also clearly understand the points system.
"I think the points system is better," flyweight Ron Siler said. "I think the scoring system is better because people will see more blows to the head and stuff like that, and not two boxers dancing around the ring not really hitting each other."
Other U.S. competitors will be Rau'Shee Warren (48kg), Vicente Escobedo (60kg), Rock Allen (64kg), Vanes Martirosyan (69kg), Andre Dirrell (75kg), Devin Vargas (91kg) and Jason Estrada (+91kg).
The toughest international competition will come from Cuba and Russia. Most of the boxing world agrees on that fact, and the numbers back it up: Russia won seven medals in Sydney; Cuba won six, including four gold medals.
Felix Savon claimed one of Cuba's four golds in 2000, tying an Olympic record by winning his third consecutive Olympic heavyweight title. He will be back for the Athens Games, but not as a competitor.
Savon is now the Cuban coach, and he believes his team could win as many as eight of the 11 divisions in Athens. He won't find many doubters, especially with big things expected from his protege, heavyweight Odlanier Solis.
Cuba forbids its boxers to enter the professional ranks, and so the pugilists of that country have no better opportunity for international recognition than the Olympic Games.
"They're on a system...they don't play any games," Ward said. "They fight to live. If they don't fight, they get thrown back in the pack. This is a special privilege for them to be on the Olympic team."
Bet on Cuba hogging the spotlight.
By Gerard Gallagher, Olympic Contributing Editor