Olympians Claressa Shields and Shakur Stevenson get first-round byes
The best shot for U.S. gold at the 2016 Olympics in Rio will be missing in action when the first round gets underway on Saturday.
Claressa Shields won’t step into the ring until Aug. 17 because of a first-round bye as a result of her No. 1 seeding. The Michigan native will face the winner of the middleweight opening bout between Taipei’s Nien-Chin Chen and Russia’s Iaroslava Iakushina. Shields struck gold at the 2012 London Games in the women’s Olympic debut.
On the men’s side, Shakur Stevenson, a slick bantamweight from Newark, New Jersey, also got to skip the first round by virtue of his No. 4 seeding and won’t have to fight until Aug. 14. Stevenson, undefeated in international competition and a favorite of a number of professional stars, such as Terence Crawford and Andre Ward, will face whomever emerges between Brazil’s Robenilson de Jesus and Algeria’s Fahem Hammachi. Stevenson will look to become the first American male to win gold since Ward did it in 2004 in Athens.
The men’s team qualified just six out of a possible 10 weight divisions for these Games, making it the smallest contingent of boxers the U.S. has ever sent to a non-boycotted Olympics since 1908. The men’s team has plummeted from its once lofty perch, unable to win a medal in the 2012 Games and winning just a bronze in 2008 by Deontay Wilder in Beijing. Plagued with internal strife at USA Boxing and losing a number of blue-chippers such as Erickson Lubin to the professional ranks, American men have struggled to win medals.
The public will get their first-taste of what the new team has to offer when lightweight Carlos Balderas takes on Kazakhstan’s Berik Abdrakhmanov on Saturday morning. Later that evening, light flyweight Nico Hernandez faces Italy’s Manuel Cappai. Middleweight Charles Conwell, who is close to Shawn and Kenny Porter from his Ohio roots, faces India’s Krishan Vikas in Monday’s session.
Gary Antuanne Russell, younger brother of featherweight titleholder Gary Russell Jr., faces Haiti’s Richardson Hitchins, who lives in New York, on Wednesday. Flyweight Antonio Vargas, a 2015 PanAm Games champion, clashes with Brazil’s Juliao Neto on Aug. 13. On the women’s side, lightweight Mikaela Mayer faces Micronesia’s Jennifer Chieng on Aug. 12 in her Olympic debut.
“We’re very happy at this stage,” U.S. Olympic Boxing Coach Billy Walsh said in a press release. “We’ve been sitting on edge for the last week or so waiting for the draw. We’re happy to know where we are at. We’re ready to roll. The team’s been ready for awhile. They’re all excited to get in to the Olympic arena and produce some of the best performances. We’re going to take it one fight at a time, one round at a time, one minute at a time and we’ll work our way from there.”