Shakur Stevenson had a taste of the Olympic experience when he competed - and won gold - at the Nanjing 2014 Youth Olympic Games. Now he will have the chance to go for gold on the Olympic stage after qualifying for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games with a semifinal win at the AIBA American Olympic Qualification Tournament Thursday evening in Buenos Aires, Argentina. It was the first of three bouts between American and Venezuelan boxers with Olympic berths on the line.
His win capped a productive day for USA Boxing as a total of four roster spots were secured for Rio. Light flyweight Nico Hernandez, middleweight Charles Conwell and Claressa Shields, the reigning women’s middleweight Olympic champion, also locked down their spots in the Olympic tournament. They join lightweight Carlos Balderas, who earned his berth in Rio on the basis of his performance last fall in the World Series of Boxing.
Stevenson defeated Jose Vicente Diaz Azocar of Venezuela, showcasing the talent that earned him Outstanding Boxer honors at the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team Trials with a dominant performance that gave Azocar little room to breathe. Working a penetrating right jab to set up his left hook, the southpaw was relentless, bloodying Azocar in the second round.
In other action Thursday, two other American men fell short of qualifying for Rio. Gary Russell found himself trailing Venezuela’s Luis Martin Arcon Diaz at the end of two rounds of their light heavyweight bout. He came out aggressively for the third round, but it was not enough to earn the victory and the berth in Rio.
Jonathan Esquivel hoped to claim his spot in Rio when he met Albert Ramon Ramirez Duran, also of Venezuela, in the light heavyweight class. Taking the initiative, Esquivel tried to force the action in the first round. Duran played a waiting game and found his opportunity with 14 seconds left, delivering an uncontested right that snapped Esquivel’s head back. The second round saw the Venezuelan southpaw slip his right jab past Esquivel’s defenses, and he closed out the match to deny Esquivel the Olympic berth.
Russell and Esquivel now turn their attention to the two remaining opportunities to qualify for Rio: the APB/WSB Olympic Qualifying Event in Sofia, Bulgaria, May 13-22, and the final chance to qualify will be at the AOB Final World Olympic Games Qualifier June 7-19 in Baku, Azerbaijan.