What do Lennox Lewis, Joe Frazier, George Foreman, Wladimir Klitscko and Felix Savon have in common? They are all former Olympic boxing gold medal winners.
While the first four, are household names in the world of boxing, perhaps it is Savon who should be. Savon won the heavyweight boxing gold medal at the 1992, 1996 and 2000 Olympic games, but hailing from Cuba is not allowed to turn to professional boxing. We will never know how he would have faired in the paid ranks, but given that the likes of David Tua and David Izonrite finished below him at the games we can assume he would have at least been a contender.
The Olympic games has long been a breeding ground for future world champions in all weight divisions and the big question is whether we will see any new stars emerging at the Athens Olympics which kicks off on Friday, August 13th.
In recent years there is not as much emphasis placed on a good amateur career as it was in the past and many boxers choose to jump into the paid ranks as soon as possible. Lennox Lewis turned down a million dollar offer to turn pro ahead of the 1988 games, choosing instead to claim the highest prize in the amateur game. One need not look too far to see the price we are paying for neglecting the grooming process.
Boxers with style, class and technical know how seem few and far between, but at the same time amateur coaching is also not what it used to be. Take a guy like Hassim Rahman. He only had around 10 amateur fights and then turned pro. His main obstacle in beating the top class guys, like Holyfield and Lewis has been his lack of experience. He’s got the punch as Lewis found out, but he’s missing the rounding off a good amateur career could have given him.
The fact that we have not had any significant fighters emerge from the 2000 Olympics is also disturbing. It may only be four years ago, but you would have expected to have some flash around somebody by now. There was a lot of hope placed on super heavyweight gold medal winner Audley Harrison from the UK, but other than winning the lowly regarded WBF heavyweight crown, he doesn’t look to be anything special.
When Oscar Da La Hoya returned from the 1992 Olympic games as the US’s only gold medal winning boxer he was instantly dubbed the golden boy and world title talks were on even before he turned pro. If the Athens Olympics fails to deliver a real hope for the pro ranks it will be another blow for boxing and will contribute to the further deterioration of the amateur game.
Cuba has been the most successful boxing nation at the Olympics in recent years and perhaps these men need to be poached to other countries for the good of the sport. We’ve seen Cuban basketball players in the US, so why not a boxer or two?