After qualifying at the U. S. Olympic Trials in Reno, Nevada in December and then training at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado since February 16, 12 American boxers boarded a plane on Monday, February 29, to join an additional 228 boxers from 33 countries to compete in the critical Americas Olympic Qualifier event in the Argentine capitol of Buenos Aires. With 25 men’s and five women’s Olympic berths on the line, it’s literally blood and guts from here on out. Since 2000, boxers from across the globe have had to qualify for their spots internationally in addition to winning their respective national events. The Americas Olympic Qualifier marks the first time an Olympic qualifying event will include the women’s competition.
Due to host country berths and men’s international qualifying before the Olympic Trials as well as the number of available quota spots varying by weight division, the place in which each American boxer will need to finish in Buenos Aires differs. Traditionally, the United States qualifies the majority of their Olympic berths in the continental qualifier and the 2016 squad has high hopes to continue that tradition.
Since welterweight Paul Kroll (Phila., Pa.), middleweight Charles Conwell (Cleveland Heights, Ohio), heavyweight Cam F. Awesome (Lenexa, Kansas), and super heavyweight Marlo Moore (Hayward, Calif.) need to place in the top three in Argentina to clinch their berth, there will be a consolation bout to determine the third place position on the same day as the championship matches.
In the men’s division, light flyweight Nico Hernandez (Wichita, Kansas), flyweight Antonio Vargas (Kissimmee, Fla.), bantamweight Shakur Stevenson (Newark, N. J.), light welterweight Gary Russell (Capitol Heights, Md.), light heavyweight Jonathan Esquivel (Anaheim, Calif.) will all need to advance to the finals to qualify.
Women’s flyweight Virginia Fuchs (Kemah, Texas) and reigning women’s middleweight Olympic champion Claressa Shields (Flint, Mich.) will also need at least a silver medal to qualify for Brazil. Female lightweight Mikaela Mayer (Los Angeles, Calif.) needs to win the Americas Olympic Qualifier to advance.
On arrival in Buenos Aires, the U.S. team will then have 10 days to finish their training, get acclimated to the environment and time zone. The weigh-ins will take place on Friday, March 11 before the official event draw and start of competition that night. Competition will run through March 19 when the championship matches and consolation bouts take place at the Predio Ferial la Rural de Palermo in Buenos Aires.
USA Boxing Women’s National Team Head Coach Billy Walsh (Colorado Springs, Colo.) and coaches Joe Guzman (Colorado Springs, Colo.), Kay Koroma (Burke, Va.), Benny Roman (Brooklyn, N.Y.) and Augie Sanchez (Las Vegas, Nev.) have been preparing the athletes and of course will travel with them to the event.
The Americas Olympic Qualifier is the first of three qualifying opportunities for the men and two for the ladies. The top four athletes in the Women’s World Championships in May will also advance to the 2016 Olympic Games. On the men’s side, there’s another perk for those who competed in AIBA’s World Series of Boxing and APB (AIBA Pro Boxing) bouts over the last two years. These boxers receive a second opportunity to qualify. That final event will take place in late June.
As mentioned in an earlier article, AIBA’s preferential treatment towards lightweight Carlos Balderas (Santa Maria, Calif.) continues. Balderas, who didn’t have to compete in the U. S. Olympic Trials in December of last year, much to the chagrin of the six boxers who for four long years did everything humanly possible to qualify (except fight in AIBA’s World Series of Boxing), also didn’t have to join his teammates on this trip to Buenos Aires because he has already qualified for the 2016 Olympics based upon his participation in the 2015 World Series of Boxing season. Perhaps all future Olympians will follow his lead and do as he did become a puppet for AIBA and make them money by competing in the WSB (World Series of Boxing).
U. S. Americas Olympic Qualifier Team
Male light flyweight: 20 year-old, 5’4” tall Nico Hernandez who works as a lube tech is trained by Lewis Hernandez at the Northside 316 Gym in Wichita, Kansas. In high school he was a standout cross country runner. A highlight of his Amateur career: In his first year of eligibility, Hernandez won the Golden Gloves National title at 108 pounds with an unanimous decision win. (In this competition, he needs to finish in the top two)
Female flyweight: Virginia Fuchs, Kemah, Texas, LSU graduate, trains at Baby Bull Boxing Academy. With her 28th birthday coming on March 9, she must finish in the top two.
Male flyweight: Antonio Vargas, Kissimmee, Fla., trained by his girlfriend’s dad at the Heart of a Warrior Gym must finish in the top two. He defeated two qualified Olympians from Puerto Rico and Cuba to win the 2016 Pan American Games and no he’s no relation to the Antonio Vargas who played “Huggy Bear” in the 70’s TV series “Starsky and Hutch.”
Male bantamweight: at just 18 years of age, Shakur Stevenson of Newark, N. J. is the oldest of nine children. He grew up at the ALX Gym in Newark where his grandfather was a coach. This natural, who has never lost an international competition, often spars with his good friend Rau’shee Warren, a three-time Olympian who has now done very well as a pro since 2012. Stevenson is coached by Wali Moses and Kay Koroma. To qualify he needs to finish in the top two.
Female lightweight: Mikaela Mayer, hometown Los Angeles, Calif., is a student at Northern Michigan University. She was the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team Trials Runner-up. In this competition, Mayer needs to win the gold.
Male light welterweight: 19 year-old Gary Antuanne Russell, Capitol Heights, Maryland not to be confused with his older brother, the 2008 bantamweight Olympian and now WBC World Featherweight Champion Gary Russell Jr., is coached by his father Gary Russell Sr. Russell and his three brothers made history in the Golden Gloves when all four won the Golden Gloves Tournament in the same day. Russell must finish in the top two.
Male welterweight: Paul Kroll is a 20 year-old electrician who works out at the Rivera Recreation Center in the City of Brotherly Love, Philadelphia, Pa. with a coach by the name of “Grasshopper.” Kroll stands 5’9” tall, has two children and a big heart. Sylvester Stallone should keep in contact with this guy for movie script ideas. Kroll has to finish in the top three.
Female middleweight: Claressa Shields, Flint, Mich. won the Olympic Trials at 16 and was 17 when she won Olympic gold. She has to finish in the top two. Shields has been honored on the floor of the Michigan State Senate, introduced to Vice President Joe Biden and presented the Liberty medal to boxing by the former Heavyweight Champion Muhammad Ali.
Male middleweight: Charles Conwell is from Cleveland Heights, Ohio. He must finish in the top three. Conwell comes from a big family. He has eight siblings. In 2015, “BJ” went undefeated in the National Championships, Golden Gloves and Olympic Trials.
Male light heavyweight: Jonathan Esquivel who trains at the Anaheim Boxing Club must finish in the top two. Back on Sunday, December 16, 2012, Esquivel was right here in San Diego (successfully) competing in the finals of the 2012 Boxers for Christ National Tournament at the San Diego Combat Academy on Convoy Street in Kearny Mesa, a gym that has since closed it’s doors.
Male heavyweight/funny guy Cam F. Awesome resides in Lenexa, Kansas but his hometown is Uniondale, Long Island, N. Y. As a standup comic, he did three shows in the two days just prior to the start of the Olympic Trials. He needs to finish in the top three.
Now for the muddied waters surrounding this year’s Olympics in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil: bad guy AIBA continues to throw their weight around. From AIBA, who changed their mind in regards to the mandatory use of head gear for boxers in the World Cup 2013 in Almaty, Kazakhstan, came this communique on March 2, 2016. The Press Release from Dr. Wu Ching-Kuo, the President of AIBA regarding the issue of wearing the protective head gear in the 2016 Olympics: “Our research and statistics show that boxers and coaches of our sport are satisfied without a helmet. Scientific research has shown a decrease of 43% in the number of concussions since.” Since when is not mentioned.
Another major change could take place in this year’s boxing competition in Rio: They say AIBA is now deciding at an “extraordinary congress” at the end of May on another reform to the Olympics “to open the Olympics to all professional boxers.”
A caution regarding an article published today, March 2, that read: “The Rio 2016 Olympic boxers will fight without a helmet. The IOC approved the decision of AIBA, the International Amateur Boxing Federation, on Wednesday that boxers participating in the Olympic Games in Rio will fight without a helmet for the first time since 1984. This new rule does not apply in the women’s Olympic tournament. So, what it boils down to whatever AIBA decides that’s going to be the law. Question for AIBA and the IOC: If doing without headgear is so safe and results in 43% fewer concussions then why do the pro and amateur boxers along with the blessing of their trainers and managers choose to wear head gear when they spar?
Two of the six boxers who were wronged by AIBA’s decision not to contest the 132 pounds/male category in this year’s US Olympic Trials in Reno, Nevada were Teofimo Lopez, from Davie, Fla. and Genaro Gamez from San Diego, Calif. While Gamez recently signed with Oscar De La Hoya’s Golden Boy Promotions, Lopez’s people decided to get on the phone with the powers to be in Honduras where his parents were born. In an instant the Honduras Olympic Boxing Committee accepted Lopez’s offer to compete for them.
What do you suppose is going to happen to Carlos Balderas when and if he has to face Lopez in this year’s Olympics or later in the professional ranks? You know Gamez will also be chomping at the bit to face Balderos when and if Balderos ever turns pro.