And then there were none.
A historically unsuccessful Olympic journey reached an underwhelming end today for the U.S. men's boxing team. For the first time in program history, America's fighters are returning home from Olympic competition empty-handed.
A punchless performance from a once-promising squad was punctuated on Tuesday, when last man standing Errol Spence succumbed to Russian Andrey Zamkovoy in a quarterfinal welterweight bout. Even with a second chance, Spence couldn't save the U.S. team from being embarrassingly eradicated from Olympic action without sniffing a medal match.
"It’s very disappointing for all of us, but we all fought hard and tried," Spence, 22, stated after the match.
Fighting hard and trying is all well and good, and this group of American boxers should be commended for the amateur careers that led them to this point. That being said, a frustratingly large question now looms in the aftermath of colossal disappointment.
What the heck happened to USA Boxing?
"I think the foundation is kind of crumbling a little bit, but we’re going to rebuild it," said U.S. assistant coach Charles Leverette as quoted by the Associated Press. "The support is there, but we have to figure out the best way to help these athletes get back to the top."
Team USA used to routinely reside at the top of boxing's global food chain. Cassius Clay, Sugar Ray Leonard, Joe Frazier, Oscar De La Hoya and Andre Ward are just a few of the many U.S. boxers who've starred on the Olympic stage.
Ward, who won gold in the light heavyweight division at the 2004 Athens Games, is the lone American to secure the top spot on the podium during the last four Olympic runs. During that span, Americans have claimed four bronze medals.
Comparably, between 1984 and 1996, the U.S. collected 14 gold medals. American supremacy in the international boxing ring was unquestioned, highlighted by a dominant 11-medal performance at the ’84 Olympics in Los Angeles.
A U.S. team that owns an Olympic record 108 overall medals just reached rock bottom. It came crashing down completely in the past few days, as the team lost nine of its final 10 fights.
Aside from Floyd Mayweather's mighty performances (when he actually decides to fight on rare occasions), nothing seems to be adding up for U.S. boxing. Professional, amateur, Olympic.
So what's the first step in shifting the momentum? According to competitors and coaches, it might be a matter of a sore disadvantage in the areas of time, chemistry and experience.
Following preliminary rounds, qualified U.S. fighters get together for training and team activities a few months before Olympic action. This doesn't sit right with some American boxers, including Spence.
"Watching these kids work hard and try to achieve this goal, I just don't think they had enough time," he stated in London.
"You're talking about bringing these kids to face the world. The other countries have been together the last two or three years. And that's the system we've got to face. We've got to do something different than we've been doing. The last-minute thing, it's not working."
Stability in the coaching ranks could also make a difference. The U.S. Olympic boxing program has hired four head coaches since 2000.
"We need to identify a good coach and allow him to have their hands involved with what the team does, starting right after the Olympics," USA Boxing Executive Director Anthony Bartkowski told Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated.
Team cohesion doesn't come easily, and it was practically nonexistent during this abysmal Olympic run. Heavyweight fighter Deontay Wilder, who won a bronze medal in 2008, has voiced frustration about the training practice of USA Boxing.
"It was confusing," Wilder told SI. "We were trying to learn how to score points and everyone was teaching different ways to throw a punch."
The time has come for a reboot in boxing tactics for the U.S. Olympic program. Sometimes you have to be knocked down to the canvas before you can collect yourself and continue with an ongoing battle.
U.S. boxing must move forward with a new mindset. And without hesitation.
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