Basheer Abdullah, head coach of the 2012 U.S. Olympic boxing team, stands at the far right of the 2004 squad, the last American team to bring home a gold medal. Abdullah says the 2012 team will surprise people with its success in the London Games.
Colorado Springs, CO – Basheer Abdullah and Charles Leverette know the recent track record. It’s been far from sterling for the United States Olympic boxing team, once the world’s international standard.
They are part of the U.S. coaching staff that’s going to London for the 2012 Summer Olympics and their goal is to create as much distance as possible from the 2008 Beijing U.S. team, which was among worst in U.S. Olympic history, only garnering a single bronze medal (Deontay Wilder at heavyweight).
What head coach Abdullah and Leverette hope to do is restore some confidence and pride in U.S. amateur boxing with this 12-member 2012 Olympic squad.
The men’s team consists of flyweight Rau’shee Warren (a three-time Olympian), bantamweight Joseph Diaz Jr., lightweight Jose Ramirez, light welterweight Jamel Herring, welterweight Errol Spence, middleweight Terrell Gausha, light heavyweight Marcus Browne, heavyweight Michael Hunter and super heavyweight Dominic Breazeale.
Flyweight Marlen Esparza, lightweight Queen Underwood and middleweight Claressa Shields make up the women’s team.
The U.S. boxing team has won just three gold medals in the last four Olympiads (Oscar De La Hoya in 1992, David Reid in 1996 and Andre Ward in 2004), but the soft-spoken head coach is confident that Team USA will bring back more Olympic hardware than people think.
“I have a lot optimism about this team and the commitment this team has given, it’s just too bad that I don’t think some other people across the country are optimistic about us,” said Abdullah, a retired U.S. Army staff sergeant. “I think there is a collective chip on our shoulders this team carries, and all you have to do is look at the past Olympics to tell why. Yes, we do have something to prove.
“There are a lot of people out there, regrettably in the U.S., that doesn’t think we can do well. The biggest priority for me and this coaching staff is to make sure we do things right.”
Leverette, one of Abdullah’s assistant coaches, says they are working with a group that is not only talented, but also focused and mature.
“I think this team is a little more grounded than some of the past teams we’ve had,” he said. “We have leadership in place and that’s also what was lacking the last couple of Olympics.
“Watch the whole team. This group of athletes is going to bring prominence back to USA Boxing and Team USA. You can say that in a way we do have something to prove. Andre Ward won in 2004, but we haven’t done too well since then. We want to show that we’re one of the more dominant teams in amateur boxing and these kids are out to prove it.”
Abdullah and Leverette, the head coach of the All-Army Boxing team, have benefitted greatly from the U.S. Army’s World Class Athlete Program (WCAP), providing coaching, financing and state-of-the-art training facilities in Colorado Springs, Colorado for the U.S. team.
It’s army discipline they’re conveying to their fighters.
“There is a chance we can win all gold, but I can see two or three medals, with the two women counted in there,” said Leverette, a former amateur boxer. “The reason I say that is this team is willing to accept the discipline and training. They’re getting it here and they’re getting it at home. The communication lines between the fighter’s coaches at home and our staff has been great. They see what we’re doing and respect our final decisions.”
That area was a sore spot in the past, especially in 2008, when Warren was looking for advice from his personal coach during his first-round bout in Beijing—and wound up losing. Warren, a medal favorite, suffered a 9-8 upset loss to South Korean Lee Ok-Sung.
“Kids respect someone that has their ducks in a row and there is a plan that everyone has supported,” Leverette said. “All these kids want is guidance. They need someone to guide them and we’re ones doing it, along with their personal coaches. We understand (their home coaches) have the biggest influence on these kids, and they should, because they’ve been with them all of their lives. But there is far better communication that hasn’t happened as much as it has in past years. It was our goal to establish much better communication.”
Abdullah vows the outside interference won’t occur with the 2012 team.
“We have to be united from top to bottom, from our coaching staff, to the boxers, to their home coaches, to everyone involved in USA Boxing, we need to be united from top to bottom and we’ll get the maximum out of our athletes,” Abdullah said.“That’s been our problem in the past. We have a habit of getting in each other’s way. We have to develop a trust between personal coaches and Olympic coaches, placing the most qualified coaches we have and take the politics out of the process.”
Warren, Hunter and Ramirez look like strong possibilities to medal, but watch for middleweight Terrell Gausha, from Cleveland, Ohio. Leverette and Abdullah both believe Gausha has the potential be a star in 2012.
“It’s about giving this team that’s committed so much a chance,” Abdullah said. “I think we can come home with a lot of medals. We believe in them. It would be nice for everyone across the country to believe in them, too.”
Photos / Tom Cammett and Kevork Djansezian-Getty Images