Teddy Atlas worked the Olympics for NBC, and got back from London on Monday. On the phone Wednesday, he sounded a bit tired, understandable with the travel grind he experienced. And, if you are familiar with Atlas, you know he feels things deeply, takes them to heart, and it sounded like the foolishness surrounding the scoring at the Games had him a bit down. But, typical Teddy, once he warmed to the topic, he was like a thoroughbred fighter who looked a bit gassed late, but summoned something from somewhere to rally hard in the championship rounds.
I asked the Staten Island, New York-based analyst if he saw the American effort at the Games, specifically the men's side, as I did. Teddy, was this a diaster, for the men to go medal-less for the first time ever in a Games?
“Yes,” he said, without hesitation. “They need to take a wrecking ball to the men's program, and start with the executives (at USA Boxing). They need to pick the right coaches, and have a team philosophy, and prepare infrastructure properly. They should all be fired. I think some are in patronage jobs, and I don't know if the others don't know enough, or don't care.”
We can safely assume Atlas isn't overjoyed with the effort of USA Boxing executive director Anthony Bartkowski. He was quoted in the NY Times as saying that the USA team is hampered by a lack of cash, and thus, the squad had a scant month to train together and absorb a philosophy from a coach that was picked at the 11th and half hour, Basheer Abdullah. “They need to put a proper program in place,” said Atlas, who saw how things worked, and more often, didn't work, over three weeks in London. (It was mind boggling to me that coach Joe Zanders was dumped, and Abdullah hired, a month before the Games. Makes sense to me to hire a coach TODAY, and have that guy oversee the formation of a squad between now and 2016. Then again, if the budget is really so woeful, it might be hard to find a quality person who wants a respectable salary, and keep them for four years. Chris Mannix of SI reported that the program got less than half a million of funding for the year before the Games. Now, I am not sure how the funding rises and dips according to how many years it is before the Olympics, but can some smart people not work on getting the funding in place so we can hire an ace, be it an American one, or Cuban guy, or whatever?)
Now, Atlas didn't merely single out some suits here; he took aim at some of the fighters who looked like they didn't want a medal as much as some would assume they would, or as much as they maintained they did on Twitter.
“I want kids on the team that are not just happy to be there,” said the analyst, who works mainly for ESPN. “It would be nice see the Americans cry after they lost, like the European kids did, like (Errol) Spence did. It's not a coincidence he did better than most everyone, he showed his emotions.”
Atlas' displeasure didn't stop at the US men; he is no fan of the AIBA, the International Boxing Association, the international governing body of amateur boxing, which late in the Games, botted Atlas and partner Bob Papa from their front row spot, because they were “distracting.” He said he would never do another Olympics if Dr. Ching-Kuo Wu of Chinese Taipei remains President. Atlas said he has never seen an organization in boxing transgress, as a whole, like AIBA did at the Games. He belives that AIBA setting up a professional boxing league, and signing fighters during the Games who will fight in AIBA Pro, which kicks off next year, is a recipe for disaster and conflict of interest. Atlas said that it seems too coincidental that AIBA-signed pros, like Ukrainians Vasyl Lomachenko and Oleksandr Usyk, win gold in a contest overseen by their promoters.
Essentially, AIBA acted as a state commission would, seperate from a promoter, at the Games, giving them leeway to influence scoring and thus, who received medals. (Though no evidence of impropriety has been found, to this date.)
You'll recall Magomed Abdulhamidov was knocked down six times by eventual bantamweight bronze medallist Satoshi Shimizu, but was allowed by ref Ishanguly Meretnyyazov to continue, and amazingly, “won” the round on the judges scorecards. That ref was sent home by AIBA, which in my opinion is a woeful under-reaction to a most dubious looking affair. Why wasn't there an investigation conducted immediately? Atlas isn't spouting from the gut, it must be said; the BBC reported last year that Azerbaijan paid millions to the World Series of Boxing, which was put together by AIBA. AIBA denied that a pay to play arrangement was made. Wu called the story and fix allegation “ludicrous.” Oh, I almost forgot; what country did Magomed fight for? You guessed it; Azerbijan. That an investigation hasn't been launched by AIBA certainly doesn't help Wu's defense, now does it?
“What they did to those fighters and the sport is criminal,” Atlas said. “They singlehandedly almost destroyed this sport and I don't know if it can be repaired. It's a shame what they've done to the sport, they've deformed the sport, and every ounce of integrity has been taken away. The only integrity left is in the fighters.”
About those fighters…I asked Atlas who impressed him from the US crew. Joseph Diaz, Errol Spence and Terrell Gausha, he singled out. He was better able to articulate, though, who he felt didn't measure up, starting with Rau'Shee Warren. Warren, he said, acted in the same fashion in these Games as he did in his previous two tries. “He didn't fight like it meant anything to him,” Atlas said. Heavyweight Michael Hunter II didn't leave Atlas enthused; he said he saw that boxer in the gym before competition, walking around with his headphones on, lost in his own zone.
“In his fight, he was out of gas in three rounds,” Atlas said. “In the gym with headphones on, what are you doing? You're getting ready for the Olympics with headphones on, what are you doing!?”
Atlass seemed as impressed as I was with gold medal winner Claressa Shields. “She has a great personality, she's strong, fast, is bubbly, innocent, honest.” She showed the attributes Atlas would like to see more of in the Olympic boxers. “I'd rather have guys that are less athletic, but care more about repping us and the opportunity, taking it as an honor.”
I will share some more of what Atlas suggested can be done to shore up the program, as well as some insights from Emanuel Steward, long a champion of our amateur program, but today someone who illustrates how far the program has fallen, as he admits he barely heard of any of the boxers on the US team. Check back for more later…