Andrea Medina fights Lupe Gutierrez during the 2020 U.S. Olympic Boxing Team Trials at Golden Nugget Lake Charles Hotel & Casino on December 15, 2019 in Lake Charles, Louisiana
Ordinarily, the chance to get in the ring and spar wouldn’t be cause for much excitement among boxers who do it as a matter of routine in training.
These aren’t ordinary times, however, and training has been anything but routine for athletes since COVID-19 began to spread and daily life changed for people all over the world.
This week and next in Colorado Springs, Colorado, however, 21 elite boxers are getting back to what life used to be like — albeit with a number of precautions and safety measures — at a training camp hosted by USA Boxing.
For many, next week will be their first time stepping in a ring since March when they were on the road to Tokyo 2020, the Olympics that have since been postponed to 2021.
“I was really excited and so happy we were coming back,” said Anthony Herrera, who was named to the U.S. Olympic qualifying team at 52 kg. “We were supposed to go to the Americas qualifier to qualify for the Olympics. We were about a week out and it got canceled. So we got sent back home, and when you’re so focused on something and you’re a week out, you’re peaking in training and feeling really good. Then you get the news that this isn’t going to happen, then it comes out that the Olympics are going to be postponed for a year, and that’s all we were looking forward to. That was the biggest event in our lives. So I’m just happy that everything’s starting to get back to normal, little by little.”
This is actually the second camp that USA Boxing has held, and like June’s gathering the boxers spent the first week working out at Hotel Elegante in Colorado Springs The boxers will be bussed to and from to the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Training Center for the first camp there since March. They’ll begin training next week, pending the results of COVID-19 tests administered midway through week one.
That’s just part of the precautions USA Boxing has taken to ensure they’re moving forward in the safest way possible, said high-performance manager Liz Podominick.
“I know a lot of people have heard the term ‘bubble’ and so we created our own bubble,” she said. “The athletes are here in the hotel and we’re making sure we limit our outside activities and what the athletes are exposed to. We’ve also limited the group sizes so not everyone is training together. And we’ve probably never learned so much about cleaning supplies and disinfectants in our entire lives.”
Everyone has their own hotel room rather than doubling up, the ballroom has been their workout room with all equipment getting disinfected frequently, and the boxers all wear masks during warm-ups and right up to the point of heavy exertion, said Andrea Medina, who made the qualification team at 57 kg.
“I feel like they have everything under control,” she said. “We just have to follow the rules, wear masks, wash our hands, sanitize after working out. I feel safe training. They’re doing their part and we’re doing our part and I feel like it’s good.”
Medina admitted to having to shake off a little rust at the first camp back in June.
“Back at home I would train but it’s not the same as training in the gym,” she said. “When I got to camp it wasn’t super, super hard but it was tough to get back into the reality of just how we train normally. But we started off slow and picked it up by the end of the last camp, which was good because we’d been out for a while.”
This camp feels more like preparation to step in the ring again, Medina said, because they’re working on specific things. For example, she said, each athlete at the camp has a list of their strengths and weaknesses so they can target their workouts.
“So we feel like we’re preparing for the Olympics and getting ready to qualify,” she said.
Both Medina and Herrera are looking forward to sparring again next week.
“It’s been a while since I’ve sparred with those guys and I want to see how my conditioning is and everything I’ve been working on these past two camps and with my coaches,” Herrera said.
“I want to put all that to the test and get the feel for that again, like being in a fight.”
Now that things are moving forward again, the big question is how far they’ll be able to go.
The hope is to be able to send athletes to international competitions beginning this fall, with some events already on the schedule, Podominick said. Like everything else these days, however, those events are penciled in and subject to change.
While both Medina and Herrera said it was initially disappointing to learn the Olympics wouldn’t happen this year, both now see it as an opportunity to gain more experience since both are new to the team.
“At the end of the day everything happens for a reason, and now we have more time to prepare," Medina said. “That’s basically my mindset, because I’ve only had one international tournament. Now I’m working with the team more and getting to know everybody, the coaches and my teammates, and getting more comfortable with the style and everything. I think it’s a good thing for me.”
Said Herrera, “By the time 2021 hits I’ll have more experience than I would have in 2020. I feel like I would been prepared regardless, but now I have an extra year to prepare and maybe that’s a good thing. That’s the way I’m taking it.”