Golden boy demands new era to end USA's Olympic struggles

Andre Ward fears only an overhaul of USA Boxing can again make USA successful at the Olympic Games.

The progress of former Olympians Shakur Stevenson and Keyshawn Davis is a demonstration of America’s ability to continue to nurture some of the world’s finest fighters – but the last time they produced an Olympic champion was Ward at Athens 2004. 

Ward, 39, is already over six years into retirement after one of the finest careers of the modern era, and with his perspective he believes that those attempting to succeed both he and others are being let down.

A combination of what he considers to be USA Boxing’s damaging priorities, an unwillingness to embrace former Olympians and the distractions young Americans can encounter in 2024 are all, he believes, undermining their chances after generations of considerable success. 

The coming Olympic Games in Paris begin in July, and Ward told ProBox TV: “You need stability; you need consistency; you need continuity, and you need to pull on some of the people who have already walked that path. 

“When I was coming up we had one person, and I’m grateful for him. It was Andrew Maynard – former light-heavyweight champion in the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, Korea – he was the one person that came up and talked to us. We’re in a pressure cooker – we’re preparing for the Olympics, how big it is; we’re preparing every day. Just to have a physical person we can reach out and talk to and say, ‘Hey, you’ve been there – how was it? What should we expect?’ That hit different.

“Imagine if we had guys coming in once a week talking to us; encouraging us; given us their phone numbers. We don’t do a lot of that stuff in USA boxing and I don’t know why. Only the leadership over there can answer that, but I’ve had other alumni complain about this and say, ‘Man, I’m trying to get up there’, and we constantly trying to get up there to build a rapport with these athletes, which is really, really hard, and it’s hurting the athletes.”

The great Ward visited Stevenson – also joined by Terence Crawford and Floyd Mayweather – in his dressing room shortly before his victory in November over Edwin de los Santos to offer his support.

“It starts with USA Boxing,” he continued, as he spoke to promote the publication of his book Killing The Image. “We’ve had an Olympic coach [Billy Walsh] for years now – he’s doing a good job – but over the years there’s been a lot of turnover. The kids don’t know who’s going to be their head coach from quad to quad; every four years. A lot of that has to do with politics. ‘I scratch your back; you scratch mine; I’ma get this guy in there but he may not be qualified’, and that’s hurting us. We’ve got the best talent in the world, but we haven’t always shown it. 

“It’s also a team effort. You’ve gotta pull on the alumni – people who have already been there and done that, to come in and talk to the kids, as part of the coaching staff, and give back in ways that they can give back, because the athletes will relate to these people. Maybe sometimes more than the head coach. 

“The alumni can’t undermine the head coach. But there can be some collaboration there, and it’s just really hard to get to those athletes. We have to talk to the athletes individually – we gotta do Facetime individually; video calls individually; get out there and talk to them, and it’s a lot of red tape, and I don’t know what the reason for that is. But the combination of not having stability, and not always having the right coaching situation, along with not pulling on the alumni – which other countries do – [is damaging]. The Russians; Germany. I see them hiring former guys; guys that I fought in the amateurs are now in their national team coaching. We don’t do stuff like that and that’s a problem. 

“I do believe that we have the talent but I also believe that it’s a different age and time. We as the United States of America has pretty much always had a lot more at our disposal than most countries. The Cubans and the Russians; they take it a lot more serious, but these are the things that have to be preached to the kids. You gotta take them back and say, ‘Listen, I know we’re in 2024, I get it’, but show them the mindset they’re going up against. Show them videos. Show them how those guys are training. 

“They don’t have access to their phones all day – it’s not about, ‘I want to win’. They have to win; it’s a different lifestyle that their family can live then. So just understand, ‘Hey, we’re not gonna tell you you can’t be on your phone, but just know that this guy you’re fighting, he’s got a different mentality’. These are the things that they’ve got to understand and know early – not a month out from the Olympics, but as they start to build their new quad after the nationals and get rankings, and they gotta hear it, yes, from the coach, but also people who have walked their road.”