US boxer Warren to go for record 3rd Olympic berth

Nov. 07, 2008, 5:42 p.m. (ET)

World champion flyweight boxer Rau'shee Warren has decided to stay in the amateur ranks for four more years in an attempt to become the first three-time Olympian in U.S. history.

Warren, a three-time national champion, was the first two-time American Olympic fighter in 30 years when he lost a heartbreaking one-point decision in his opening bout in Beijing.

That profound disappointment, along with his relative youth - and a big push from his mother, Paulette - persuaded the 21-year-old Warren to bypass several unappealing professional prospects for another shot at a gold medal. He also welcomes the chance to be the face of the U.S. boxing team as it rebuilds from its worst Olympic showing.

``My mom said I could be the first one to do it three times, and to just go ahead and make history,'' Warren told The Associated Press in a phone interview from his home in Cincinnati. ``A lot of guys have been successful coming out at a later age. (Atlanta bronze medalist) Antonio Tarver was 28, and there's other people like that.''

Warren was the youngest male Olympian in any sport at the Athens Games, where the teenager lost his opening bout to China's Zou Shiming, the 2008 gold medal-winning light flyweight.

He was the only member of the 2004 team to stay in the amateurs, vowing to hang a gold medal around his mother's neck. He won the U.S. team's first world championship since 1999 last year, but then lost 9-8 to South Korea's Lee Ok-sung in Beijing.

While Paulette immediately suggested her son should try again, the idea initially didn't appeal to Rau'shee - but she convinced him.

``I thought it was smart, because it would be better for him to go into the pro leagues with a gold medal under his belt,'' Paulette Warren said. ``Plus, he's still young. He'll still have a chance for the pros after that. I thought it was good to go for that gold, because the third time is always the charm.''

Warren considered jumping into the pro circuit along with his teammates, but didn't like what he heard from promoters. The U.S. team was once a springboard to lucrative pro careers for every fighter from Cassius Clay to Oscar De La Hoya, but the amateur game's changing style and weird scoring standards have scared off many top North American prospects and the men who pay them to fight.

``I was talking to some (promoters), but none that were really interested,'' Warren said. ``Ever since the 2000 team, it's been kind of hard for guys coming out.''

Warren's loss to Lee provided a defining image for the fractured U.S. team.

Warren danced outside and failed to engage Lee in the final 35 seconds of their bout, believing his family and friends in the stands had told him he was leading. He even raised his glove in victory after the bell.

The result was painful, but Warren's reaction to the defeat was among the few bright spots in an otherwise dismal trip for the U.S. team, which dismissed coach Dan Campbell after winning just one bronze medal.

Warren threw his headgear in disgust when he learned he had lost, but he immediately apologized for being unsportsmanlike. While others bemoaned the judging and refereeing afterward, Warren insisted through tears that he had only himself to blame.

And while most of his teammates left town immediately after their loss, Warren stayed in Beijing to root on the remaining U.S. fighters, including medal-winning heavyweight Deontay Wilder.

Paulette Warren echoes most boxing fans' belief that the U.S. team can't return to power unless fighters commit to the necessary years to master the amateur game. Cuba and Russia, the two pre-eminent powers in amateur boxing over the last quarter-century, routinely field teams with multiple years of experience.

``I think the United States needs somebody to stay in like that, because they always have a fresh team every four years, and it doesn't work out like that,'' Paulette said. ``You've got to stick with it.''