NANJING, China – Shakur Stevenson and Darmani Rock arrived in Nanjing, China, with one common goal – winning a medal at the Youth Olympic Games.
“Stay focused and win the gold medal,” said Stevenson. ”That’s what I’m here to do.”
For so much confidence, the New Jersey native ended his Youth Olympic journey with one significant act of humility – bowing his head to receive the gold medal he set to out achieve in the men’s flyweight (52 kg.) division.
Later that evening, Rock added a silver to the U.S. boxing team’s medal haul, in the men’s super heavyweight (+91 kg.) final at the International Expo Center. The duo joins teammate Jajaira Gonzalez – who, on Tuesday, won a historic gold medal in the women’s lightweight competition – as the first American boxers to medal at the Youth Games.
“There are some athletes who say they want to win, but with these three, they really believe it, they really mean it and they take the responsibility to prepare and make it happen. That’s what sets them apart,” said coach Edward Rivas, who is leading the U.S. boxers in Nanjing.
The gold and silver came on a day that saw Team USA collect five medals on the final day of competition, boosting the U.S. medal count to 22 overall.
Stevenson entered the Youth Games as one of the favorites to win the men’s flyweight title. With a perfect 17-0 international record and gold-medal victories at both the 2013 and 2014 junior world championships, the 17-year-old lived up to his top billing, winning gold by unanimous decision in a 3-0 defeat over hometown favorite Lyu Ping of China. The two young boxers first met in the semifinals of the 2014 Junior World Championships, with Stevenson taking a unanimous decision.
“Shakur is a special athlete and very adaptable in the ring, which as a coach, makes it really enjoyable to watch,” said Rivas. “He understands boxing at a very high level, and we’ve seen that throughout this tournament.”
As for the excitement of the crowd, Rivas said, “He loves the energy it brings to the fight. Darmani is the same way.”
The crowd did not disappoint, with droves of zealous fans turning out to watch Rock take on Germany’s Peter Kadiru in the super heavyweight final. The showdown was a rematch from the title bout of the 2014 Junior World Championships, which Rock won by split decision.
“It was a close bout. So with that motivation the German has going into the final, we need to raise our level and not take him lightly. It’s going to be a very good fight,” Rivas said before the final in Nanjing.
As expected, the final proved to be a thrilling display of young talent with Kadiru claiming the top podium spot in a 3-0 decision.
“Peter Kadiru was the better man tonight and he really came to fight," Rock said. "He threw a lot more punches than he did the first time we fought and that was the major difference in the fight. I’m going to go back home to Philadelphia, get back in the gym and train harder than ever.”
With less than 30 bouts under his belt, Rock is considered one of the biggest surprises for the U.S. team in 2014, enjoying great international success despite limited experience on the world stage. After winning gold medals at both the junior world championships and youth continental championships earlier this year, the 6-5 Philadelphia native now returns home with a silver medal to add to his collection – and perhaps an extra dose of motivation heading into the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
“It’s been something we’ve been working toward for the last 18-20 months, going to more international competitions and preparing these young men for the next level,” said Rivas, who is helping develop the young boxers at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
“We want to transfer this kind of preparation and success from the youth to the elite level and get ready for 2016. We’re looking forward to making some really great progress in the next year or two, but it’s a good start and we’re headed in the right direction.”