Olympic boxing finally will go pro at the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro as the international federation changed its eligibility rules to stem the exodus of talented fighters cashing in before they ever get to fight for a gold medal.
AIBA (Amateur International Boxing Association), which has told its national governing bodies to drop the word “amateur,” will begin its own professional circuit this fall, enabling athletes from 19 to 40 to earn monthly salaries and prize money while remaining eligible for the Games.
The federation also will allow current pros with fewer than 15 bouts to compete in the Olympics as long as they join the circuit two years before qualifying begins, stay at least two years after the Games, and don’t compete for another organization.
The five-ringed professionalization includes a 10-point must system, replacing the controversial computerized scoring adopted after 1988, and scrapping the headgear that has been mandatory since 1984. The changes, pushed by federation president Wu Ching-kuo of Taiwan, should benefit the Americans, who’ll be able to put money into the pockets of promising teenagers who otherwise would be persuaded to turn pro by promoters, agents, and trainers.
After last summer’s London disaster, where the Yanks failed to win an Olympic medal for the first time, the new era should help a rebuilding effort that already is underway with USA Boxing’s hiring of longtime Cuban trainer Pedro Roque as its international teaching coach and beefing up its international calendar this year with 18 events, the most since 1988.
The first one was encouraging as seven of the eight fighters won medals at February’s Independence Cup in the Dominican Republic. Collecting silver was Lynn welterweight Rashidi Ellis, who lost in the final to Cuba’s Roniel Iglesias, the Olympic light welter champ.
Ellis, last year’s Police Athletic League titlist, will be gunning for his first US crown at this week’s event in Spokane, Wash., where sister Rashida will compete in the new youth category.
Also in the elite field, which will determine the men’s team for this autumn’s world championships in Kazakhstan, are Holyoke light heavyweight Geremias Torres and Burlington women’s bantamweight Amanda Pavone.
New home roomy
West Ham United, the London soccer club that will play in the Olympic stadium, got a sweetheart 99-year lease that requires them to pay less than $23 million of a reconfiguration that could cost more than $285 million, and only $3 million in annual rent. While the Hammers, who are in the middle of the Premier League table, could use a facility that’s both roomier and more modern than 35,000 seat Upton Park, where they’ve played since 1904, it’s unclear how they’ll manage to fill their new 60,0000-seat home . . . The US women’s ice hockey team will have an immediate showdown with the host Canadians Tuesday at the world championships in Ottawa. The Americans, who’ve won four of the last six titles, were upended by their archrivals last year in Burlington, Vt. The squad, directed by Harvard coach Katey Stone and captained by Crimson alumna Julie Chu, includes 10 Olympians and 13 skaters who played college hockey this season, including Harvard’s Michelle Picard and Lyndsey Fry, Boston College’s Alex Carpenter, and Northeastern’s Kendall Coyne.
Next week’s figure skating World Team Trophy in Tokyo will be a sneak preview of the event that will make its Olympic debut in Sochi, with men, women, pairs, and dancers contributing to a combined score. The Americans, who won silver last year behind the Japanese, will be going with Gracie Gold, Ashley Wagner, Max Aaron, Jeremy Abbott, the pair of Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir from the Skating Club of Boston, and dancers Madison Chock and Evan Bates . . . Castelli and Shnapir and fellow world teamers Ross Miner and Maia and Alex Shibutani will be the headliners for the Skating Club of Boston’s 101st Ice Chips show at Harvard’s Bright Center April 13 and 14. Details are available online at www.icechips.org . . . How much have Canadians lost interest in figure skating since the Olympic vote-swapping scandal in 2002? Attendance at the recent world championships in London, Ontario was 62,000, down by more than two thirds from the 214,140 flagwavers who jammed GM Place in Vancouver in 2001 and by more than 40 percent from the 104,237 who turned up at Calgary’s Saddledome for the post-Games event in 2006. Skate Canada, well aware of the diminished fervor, chose a smaller city with a smaller rink this time (the 6,600 seat Budweiser Gardens) to make sure that the seats would be full and that the event would be the only game in town. Even then, only the two Saturday sessions were sellouts.
Though the US women’s curling team missed the podium at the recent world championships in Latvia, dropping the bronze-medal match to the Canadians, Erika Brown’s rink still earned an Olympic berth based on the American placements this year and last. The US males, skipped by rookie Brady Clark, have a more challenging road at this week’s global event in Victoria, B.C. After coming in ranked eighth, they were 1-3 going into Monday night’s match against the unbeaten Canadians. They’ll have to finish no worse than seventh in the two-year point rankings to avoid having to compete in December’s last-chance qualifier . . . Dutch speedskater Ireen Wust figures to be the golden girl at next year’s Winter Games after winning three golds and two silvers at the recent world single-distance championships at the Olympic arena in Sochi where her countrymen won six of the 12 events and 13 medals overall. Although world sprint champion Heather Richardson came up empty, US teammate Brittany Bowe picked up a bronze in the 1,000 meters while Shani Davis collected silver in the men’s 1,500 and bronze in the 1,000 . . . The ongoing shakeup at US Speedskating has produced a new interim board president in Mike Plant, the 1980 Olympian who’s an Atlanta Braves executive vice president. Plant, a former board member who’s expected to be confirmed next month, will be overseeing what the US Olympic Committee says will be “substantial change across the entire national governing body,” which has been roiled by the forced resignation of two short-track coaches for alleged abusive behavior and the revelation of inappropriate sexual contact between former federation president Andy Gabel and former teenaged teammate Bridie Farrell.
Still on course
While the US women’s eight’s seven-year unbeaten streak came to an end Down Under at the recent World Cup rowing opener on the Olympic course in Sydney, the Americans opted not to use three of their London gold medalists, employing Susan Francia, Esther Lofgren, and Elle Logan in the quad, where they won silver. The Yanks, who hadn’t been beaten since the 2006 Cup in Lucerne, came second to Australia after sitting fourth at the midway point. That was one of five US medals, including a men’s silver in the eight behind the British, a silver in the women’s pair with Caroline Lind and Meghan Musnicki (who both doubled in the eight), and a bronze from Logan in the single. The next Cup event won’t be until June on the Olympic course in Eton, England . . . Half a dozen London gold medalists are among the 15 semifinalists for the 83d Sullivan Award, which will go to the country’s top amateur athlete. Gymnast Gabby Douglas, swimmer Missy Franklin, boxer Claressa Shields, diver David Boudia, wrestler Jordan Burroughs, and water polo player Maggie Steffens are the marquee names on a list that is heavy with collegians. Though Army football player Andrew Rodriguez won last year, the post-Olympic award always goes to a gold medalist. The public is invited to vote online at www.aausports.org; the winner will be named in Orlando April 16 . . . To avoid marathons like the one that put Roger Federer at a disadvantage in his London final and also wear down competitors who have other events, the international tennis federation may go to a third-set tiebreaker in Rio. Federer, who says he’ll reduce his tournament calendar before the 2016 Games, was out of gas after beating Juan Martin del Potro, 19-17, in the third semifinal set and was wiped out by Andy Murray in the gold-medal match. The ITF also may do away with third-place matches, giving both losing semifinalists a bronze medal, as was done in 1988 and 1992.