US boxing team finally names coaching staff
By GREG BEACHAM,
Updated June 27, 2012
(AP) -- USA Boxing has finally nominated a coaching staff for the London Olympics just one month before the games begin.
Basheer Abdullah is expected to be the Americans' head coach in London, USA Boxing proposed Wednesday.
Abdullah will be joined in London by assistants Candelario Lopez and Israel Acosta if the nominations are approved by the USOC's board of directors as expected.
Joe Zanders resigned as the Olympic head coach in the spring, and he hadn't been replaced. The U.S. team coach doesn't have a vital role in long-term training or instruction for boxers, but usually corners the fighters during Olympic bouts.
"We are sending a very experienced coaching staff to London with the 2012 U.S. Olympic team, and we believe that their knowledge will be critical in aiding our athletes to perform at the highest level," said Anthony Bartkowski, USA Boxing's executive director. "Coach Abdullah's Olympic experience provides him and the staff with a huge advantage."
Abdullah coached the U.S. team at the Athens Olympics in 2004, and he served as a technical advisor to the American teams in 2000 and 2008.
A veteran Army officer, he has a lengthy background in amateur boxing including 15 years in charge of the Army's boxing program, where he also embraced the growing women's sport after initial reluctance. Three Americans will compete in the first Olympic women's boxing tournament in London.
USA Boxing has been expected to nominate Abdullah for the job since shortly after Zanders' departure, but bureaucratic hurdles prevented an earlier move. Abdullah has been nominated just in time: The 12 U.S. Olympic fighters are reporting to Colorado Springs this week for a training camp beginning Thursday.
The relative unimportance of the coaching vacancy is reflected in the American team's strong performance in qualifying tournaments over the past few months. The Americans are expected to have the largest boxing team in London, with nine men and three women qualifying for the Olympics - just one below the maximum.
USA Boxing has attempted to embrace partnerships with its top athletes' personal coaches in the four years since the Americans came home from Beijing with just one bronze medal in their worst Olympic performance ever. The Americans spent a year in Colorado Springs in an intensive training camp before Beijing, a strategy that infuriated the fighters and alienated the coaches who had taught them since their youths.
"There's a good comfort level with our athletes and their personal coaches," Bartkowski told The Associated Press last week. "They train these athletes prior to us for a good portion of their careers. They already have the basic skill set, and when they come into training camp, they refine that skill set and become that much of a better boxer."
Abdullah is among the most experienced amateur coaches in the country, but his nomination wasn't smooth after Zanders' unexpected departure. Terry Edwards, the coach of Britain's successful team at the Beijing Games, apparently was considered for the job as well, and USA Boxing was inviting coaches to apply for the job on its website as recently as last week.
Abdullah received praise from his fighters after coaching the 2004 team that left Athens with just two medals - a gold for Andre Ward and a bronze for Andre Dirrell, both now successful professionals.
After initially being uninterested in women's boxing partly because of his religious beliefs, Abdullah said he grew passionate about the sport in recent years while coaching elite fighters Queen Underwood, who qualified for the Olympics as a lightweight earlier this month, and Caroline Barry in his Army program.
"I just thought this wasn't a place for a female athlete, and I didn't want to see them go through that," Abdullah told the AP at the first U.S. women's Olympic team trials in February. "But I found out differently. I realized they have something special."