The Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 run July 24-Aug. 9, 2020, with the Paralympic Games following Aug. 25-Sept. 6, and while they may be months away there’s a lot to learn on your quest to becoming the ultimate fan. Each Tuesday leading up to the Games, TeamUSA.org will present a nugget you should read about – from athletes to watch to storylines to follow to Japanese culture and landmarks – as part of “Tokyo 2020 Tuesday.” Follow along on social media with the hashtag #Tokyo2020Tuesday.
For the past two years Rahim Gonzales has slept on the couch at home in Las Vegas. He has a bed – he simply chooses not to use it.
Once Gonzales went to the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Training Center for a multi-nation boxing camp, he adopted a new place to sleep:
“If I’m comfortable, then there’s something wrong,” said Gonzales, who won the 2020 U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Boxing in the 81 kg. weight class. “I need to be uncomfortable 24-7.”
He got the idea from the 1951 movie “Jim Thorpe – All-American,” a biography of the 1912 Olympian.
“Jim Thorpe, he’s very famous, and he won a gold medal by sleeping on the floor,” Gonzales said. (TeamUSA.org could not confirm that anecdote as fact or film fiction). “When I was little, the movie came on late at night and I watched it and said, ‘I’m going to do that when I get older, when I’m ready to do it.’ Now I’m ready to do it.”
Once he arrived at the training center, Gonzales was asked if he had reconsidered. “I am a man of my word,” he said.
His father, Saalim, considers Rahim’s self-imposed hardship an example of his eccentricity.
“All athletes are off a little bit, or have something unique about them,” Saalim said. “I think it just adds to his character, it adds tenacity, it adds flavor. It helps him grow and it gives him his identity.”
So what does he think of Rahim going from the couch to the floor? Saalim laughed. “He’s just a little bit extreme,” he said.
Gonzales, 23, is willing to do whatever it takes to be a member of Team USA and box at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020.
He is one of two contenders at 81 kg. (178 pounds/light heavyweight) for Team USA. Gonzales was the top seed in the trials in Lake Charles, Louisiana, defeating No. 2 seed Atif Oberlton, twice (once by unanimous decision and the other by a score of 4-1).
Both will compete at this week’s Strandja Tournament in Sofia, Bulgaria. According to USA Boxing’s point-based selection procedure, the performances there will carry the most weight in determining the boxer in each weight class who will attempt to qualify for the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020.
Eight men and five women will represent Team USA in continental qualifying in Buenos Aires from March 26-April 3. If they do not succeed there, a tournament in Paris in May will offer the final opportunity.
“I know a lot of these fighters are much better than me, smarter than me, quicker than me, but I know that they don’t have a work ethic like me,” said Gonzales.
He has waited four years for this chance. Gonzales lost in the semifinals at the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Boxing at 64 kg. When the runner-up turned pro, Gonzales was named the alternate and trained with Team USA. However, he did not go to the Rio Games.
“It was really hard,” Gonzales said of the experience. “I was thinking about going pro, but my mom and dad were like, ‘You came so close, go try again. And if you try we’ll support you. You don’t have to work.’ So 24/7, I boxed, boxed, boxed.”
In Lake Charles, Gonzales exclaimed to the crowd at the Golden Nugget Hotel and Casino, “It’s all worth it! Shout-out to my grandparents and parents. Without them this wouldn’t be possible. And God.”
He added, “I put my heart and sweat into it.”
Gonzales also buckled down.
“I matured,” he said. “I was 19 at the time (of the 2016 trials), so I was very young. I wanted to hang out with friends, with girls. I just put my mind to it and was like, ‘You know, I’m going to get this dream accomplished.’”
Gonzales started dreaming in 2004 when he watched the Olympic Games Athens 2004 on television. He was 8 years old.
“I saw Andre Ward fighting,” he said, “and I was like, ‘I’m going to get a gold medal just like him one day.’ And he was at light heavyweight, which is my weight class.”
Ward’s 2004 gold medal was the last by a U.S. men’s boxer.
Gonzales was already familiar with some boxing legends.
“My grandpa gave me this old tape — Muhammad Ali, Roberto Duran, Iran Barkley and George Foreman — and I used to watch that tape all the time before I’d go to school,” he said. “I was like 7 years old at the time. And every day I started watching it.”
Gonzales also watched live boxing on television with his mother, Nicole, who grew up practicing karate and taekwondo.
“My mom loves boxing and she used to love Floyd Mayweather,” Gonzales said. “He used to be on TV all the time, and every weekend we used to watch.”
He admitted that at first he wasn’t really into it. “Then after a while I’m falling in love with it every day. All of a sudden my dad was like, ‘Let’s go get your first pair of gloves,’ and that was at a Chevron gas station.”
A gas station carried boxing gloves?
“I was surprised, too,” Gonzales said.
Rahim Gonzales (red) celebrates his victory at the 2020 U.S. Olympic Boxing Team Trials on Dec. 15, 2019 in Lake Charles, La.
Because he wasn’t yet 8 years old, the minimum age to get a license in the state of California, Gonzales trained in his living room with his sister Monique, who is a year older. She got gas station boxing gloves, too.
"The first person that I ever fought was my sister and she whipped my butt,” Gonzales said.
Instead of quitting, he became more determined to excel in the sport. Gonzales and his father ran up hills as part of his training and one day he realized he was ready for a rematch with his sister.
“That day I kicked my sister’s butt and she started crying,” he said. He remembered it well. “I stopped her with a body shot.”
No hard feelings – Monique was in Lake Charles to support her brother.
Saalim Gonzales said when he saw his daughter at the trials, “She didn’t even give me a hug. She punched me in the stomach and said, ‘I still got it in me.’”
While Monique did other sports like basketball, Rahim stuck to boxing: “My dad and mom always told me, ‘If you’re going to pick a sport, stick with that sport. If you play basketball, you could twist your ankle. Don’t worry about other things because then you will get sidetracked.’ So basically my whole life I’ve been just boxing, boxing, boxing.”
His father actually prefers track and field and ballet to boxing. “One of the jokes I always tell people is somebody must have given me the wrong baby because I really don’t like it that much,” Saalim said. “But he loves it. And it’s a good thing for him.”
Rahim won the 2011 Junior Olympic Nationals at 95 pounds and at age 16 he competed internationally in Tahiti.
When Gonzales fought in the 2016 Olympic trials at 64 kg./141 pounds, he found it tough making weight for his fights.
“Every night I had to lose 12 pounds,” he said. “I was getting weak. I was dehydrated, hungry. I would sit in the bathtub for eight hours a night to make my weight.”
After moving up to middleweight (75 kg./165 pounds) for about six months, Gonzales was still growing. Spending the night on the couch is one thing, but the bathtub is something else entirely. Saalim knew that cutting weight was putting too much wear and tear on his son’s body.
“The route we chose is we don’t talk about the weight,” Saalim said. “Whatever you are, if you’re one pound over, we’re off to the next weight class.”
Gonzales settled in at 81 kg. and won the national title in 2018. He was also named Outstanding Elite Male Boxer of the tournament.
By winning another belt in Lake Charles, Gonzales solidified his position as a favorite to make Team USA. Afterward he tweeted a photo of himself with Raul Marquez, a 1992 Olympian, with the caption: “Blessed to know those who paved the way before me.”
“Rahim is an exciting character,” said USA Boxing head coach Billy Walsh, who praised his determination for staying with the program another four years. “I think he has a great chance in that weight division. He can win us some medals.”
Walsh said Gonzales’ hand speed has been a factor in his success, and the boxer agreed.
“That and ‘Don’t get hit,’” Gonzales said.
Because his walking-around weight is now about five pounds lighter than his fighting weight, Gonzales has the luxury of drinking protein shakes instead of cutting weight. When he’s in camp, he follows a plant-based diet, “very healthy and clean,” he said.
He got that idea from following Liz Cambage, an Australian basketball star who plays for the Las Vegas Aces of the WNBA. She holds the WNBA single-game scoring record of 53 points.
“That’s who I want to date one day,” Gonzales said.
Um, does Cambage know this?