BEIJING (AP) Zou Shiming's path to China's first boxing gold medal looks quite clear after Friday's Olympic draw.
Zou, the two-time world amateur champion light flyweight, got a boost to his trailblazing plans when all of his top competitors landed on the other side of the bracket in the manual draw conducted at a Beijing hotel.
Given the single-elimination format and subjective scoring standards of international boxing, many fighters' medal hopes hung on the bounce of the pingpong balls drawn out of a purple Chinese vase by international boxing officials. Zou emerged among the biggest winners.
"His draw is not bad," Chinese team leader Cui Fuguo said. "The strong opponents from Cuba, Russia, Philippines, Mongolia, Thailand and the USA are all in the later bouts. He has the largest possibility to win."
Although late dropouts Gary Russell Jr. and Frankie Gavin have been the biggest stories in Olympic boxing so far, competition begins Saturday at Workers' Gymnasium with Russian middleweight star Matvey Korobov facing Sweden's Naim Terbunja. Cuba's Emilio Correa, the other top middleweight, is on the other side of the draw.
There are 283 boxers left in the Olympic field after American bantamweight Russell and Britain's Gavin dropped out for failing to make weight, along with Ethiopian flyweight Molla Getachew Ambaw.
American heavyweight Deontay Wilder and featherweight Raynell Williams also received auspicious placements in their quest for medals to make up for the team's loss of Russell, a medal favorite.
"I think we got a pretty good draw, (but) we weren't overly concerned about who we would get as opponents," U.S. coach Dan Campbell said. "We came over here expecting to work, and hoping for the best."
The most unusual grouping occurred in the featherweight division, where three strong medal favorites - Russia's Albert Selimov, Ukraine's Vasyl Lomachenko and Uzbekistan's Bajodirjon Sultonov - were grouped together in the preliminary rounds.
Only one of those three favorites can even reach the quarterfinals, while borderline medal contender Williams could reach the final without facing a distinguished international fighter.
The U.S. team's two world champions also received good draws, with flyweight Rau'shee Warren opening Tuesday against Korea's Lee Ok-sung and welterweight Demetrius Andrade drawing Georgia's Jvania Kakhaber.
Wilder, a former college basketball player who's only been boxing for three years, is in prime position to win the two bouts necessary to qualify for a medal. The most accomplished heavyweights in the Olympic field are all fighting outside his quadrant.
"I think he got a good draw, and a guy with that little experience, we would want that," Campbell said.
Middleweight Shawn Estrada will be the only American in the ring Saturday when he takes on Argentina's Ezequiel Osvaldo Maderna. Estrada and Maderna know each other well from the championship match in a qualifying tournament last spring in Guatemala City - won 4-1 by Estrada - and a recent dual training session with their national teams in Argentina.
"We would like them to meet the toughest teams in the finals," Campbell said. "That's the most exciting Olympics you can hope for, and the way the draw came out, in most cases, we'll meet Russia, we'll meet Cuba and we'll meet Thailand toward the end of the competition."