The United States Olympic Boxing Team traveled to Beijing with high hopes, boasting two world champions and several young, but experienced athletes. Yet, it was the last experienced boxer in the U.S. team, heavyweight Deontay Wilder (Tuscaloosa, Ala.) who walked away with the team's lone medal, winning bronze.
Wilder took up the sport less than three years ago, in hopes of providing a brighter future for his daughter, Naieya, who was diagnosed with Spina Bifida. A towering 6-7 heavyweight, known for his tremendous punching power, particularly in his right hand, picked up the sweet science quickly after entering a Tuscaloosa gym. He earned a spot on the U.S. Olympic Team with only 21 bouts of experience and quickly earned a reputation for thrilling fourth round comebacks. Beijing would be no different as Wilder took the lead in the final rounds of both of his bouts.
Wilder took the ring for his first bout on the final day of opening round action and fell behind early in the contest. Yet he took over in the fourth round, outscoring Algeria's Abdelaziz Toulibini, 6-0 over the final two minutes to win a 10-4 decision and advance to quarterfinal action. Fewer heavyweights and super heavyweights compete in Olympic competition, requiring that heavyweights need to win only two bouts to advance on to the medal round.
Wilder's second bout featured a match-up with Morocco's Mohammed Arajoui in quarterfinal competition. The American heavyweight lost his focus slightly before his second bout after watching his teammate Demetrius Andrade (Providence, R.I.) fall two bouts before him in a contest he thought he had won. A distraught Andrade stepped into the locker room shortly before Wilder went out for his quarterfinal bout and it briefly distracted the preparing Wilder. Yet he managed to shake it off and pull out a tiebreaker victory over Arajoui. The two boxers competed to a 10-10 tie after four rounds of action, but Wilder earned the win with a 23-22 accepted score edge.
As the referee raised his hand in victory over Arajoui, Wilder knew that he was now an Olympic medalist. As the lone U.S. boxer remaining in the competition, Wilder faced a great deal of pressure on his broad shoulders. His semifinal bout featured a match-up with reigning World Champion, Clemente Russo of Italy. Wilder finally took the ring with Russo three days later and although the bout was close through the first two rounds, Russo held a four point lead as the final round began. There was no late comeback in his bout with Russo, and Wilder dropped a 7-1 decision. Despite the loss, he was crowned an Olympic bronze medalist, an amazing feat with less than three years of experience under his belt.
"Just to have the experience I have, and to get to this point is awesome. I'm not going home empty handed," Wilder said. "To have a guy in his third year boxing and to enter the Olympics and then win a medal fighting all these guys who have double figures in years of experience over me, is awesome. I think it's an awesome accomplishment for me and I feel great."
Andrade hoped to go home with a medal as well but the 2007 Welterweight World Champion was eliminated in quarterfinal action, following two victories in Beijing. Andrade opened the competition with a closer than planned contest with Georgia's Kakhaber Jvania in first round action. Andrade pulled out an 11-9 decision over Jvania, whom he had defeated at the 2007 World Championships as well. His second bout featured a more convincing win as Andrade defeated Russia's Andrey Balanov, 14-3, in second round competition. Andrade's win over the much older Balanov advanced the 20-year-old on to a quarterfinal bout with Korea's Jung Joo Kim. The bout was a defensive stalemate early, but the pace quickened late in the bout. Andrade came out strong in the fourth round, hoping to take the lead when it counted, but fell short. Kim won an 11-9 decision, ending Andrade's run at gold.
Light flyweight Luis Yanez (Duncanville, Texas) entered the 2008 Olympic Games with a strong appreciation for his Olympic spot and his determination showed in his opening bout of the tournament with Jose Kelvin de la Nieve of Spain. Yanez used strong movement and ring generalship to take a 12-9 decision over the Spaniard and move on to the second round where he would battle Mongolia's Serdamba Purevdorj. Once again, the bout was low scoring and went into the final round up for grabs. Yet it was Purevdorj who took the decision, winning an 8-7 victory to eliminate Yanez from the competition.
Featherweight Raynell Williams (Cleveland, Ohio) opened the 2008 Olympics in impressive fashion, showing off the technical boxing skills that got him to Beijing with a 9-1 decision over Alessio de Savino. Yet his second bout of the Olympics told a different tale as he couldn't get the judges to push the button in his contest with Khedafi Djelkhir of France. The two met at the 2007 World Championships with Williams claiming the victory, but it was Djelkhir avenging his loss in China. The Frenchman won a 9-7 decision over Williams in their second round match-up to end Williams' dreams of an Olympic medal.
Middleweight Shawn Estrada (E. Los Angeles, Calif.) opened the 2008 Olympic Games for his United States team in victorious fashion. Inspired by his ailing father in Los Angeles, Estrada won a 10-2 decision over familiar foe, Ezequiel Maderna of Argentina, in their first round match-up to move on to the second round. Estrada endured a full week off before taking the ring for his second round match-up with Great Britain's James Degale. Estrada could never get going in the bout and dropped an 11-5 decision to Degale.
Two-time Olympian and reigning flyweight World Champion Rau'shee Warren (Cincinnati, Ohio) waited four years in the hopes of winning an Olympic gold medal and placing it around his mother's neck. Yet his dreams were dashed in eight minutes of first-round boxing action in Beijing. Warren faced a fellow world champion, Ok Sung Lee of Korea in the opening round contest in Beijing. Lee claimed a victory over Warren in their first match-up at the 2005 World Championships, and added a second to his resume in Beijing. The two boxers were tied after each of the first three rounds, with the fourth serving as the definitive period. It was Lee who scored one more point in the final two minutes to win a 9-8 decision and eliminate Warren from contention.
Lightweight Sadam Ali (Brooklyn, N.Y.) took the ring at the Workers Indoor Arena as the first Arab-American boxer to compete in the Olympic Games, but he couldn't pull out a victory in Beijing. Ali never found his rhythm in his four-round contest and lost a 20-5 decision to Romania's Georgian Popescu in first round competition.
Light welterweight Javier Molina (Commerce, Calif.) faced off with Boris Georgiev of Bulgaria in his opening bout, the same opponent who eliminated U.S. light welterweight Rock Allen in the Athens Olympic Games. Molina competed valiantly despite facing an illness, but lost a 14-1 decision to Georgiev in their preliminary round bout.
The United States team was led by Head Coach Dan Campbell (Colorado Springs, Colo.), Offensive Coach Robert "Herb" Martin (Washington, D.C.), and Defensive Coach Willy Price (Peshtigo, Wis.). Basheer Abdullah (Colorado Springs, Colo.) served as Technical Advisor with Joe Smith (Chattanooga, Tenn.) joining the squad as Team Manager.