Amateur boxing in the United States has found its image under attack for the last year, a result of the death of Korean professional Duk Koo Kim after a bout with Ray Mancini. That and the increasing number of young fighters turning professional are the main concerns of U.S. coaches.
Nonetheless, coaches say they expect to field a team in 1984 as talented as the squad that won five gold medals in Montreal.
"We're as good as the '76 team, if we can keep them from turning pro--which, of course, is our biggest headache," said Pat Nappi, coach of the 1976 Olympic team and this year's Pan American Games coach.
After the U.S. boycott of the 1980 Moscow Games, many top amateur boxers, including Joe Frazier Jr., turned pro, expressing doubt that the 1984 games would be free from boycott. Nevertheless, "we are good in a lot of the weight classes (especially the lightweight) and need a little bolstering in some of the others (middleweights)," Nappi said from his home in Syracuse. "But what we have is good enough."
Amateur boxing is radically different from the professional version. Competing only for three rounds, with allowances for medical inspection and attention at any time during the fight, the injury and fatality rate in amateur boxing is relatively low. Loring Baker, president of the U.S. Amateur Boxing Federation, said there were five deaths in amateur boxing in the last 10 years, covering 750,000 bouts.
"We try to point out that we are a different breed of cat from the pros," said Baker, who is busy trying to make that distinction to corporate and private sponsors, whose contributions he says have slacked off because of professional boxing's tarnished image.
"Amateur boxing is pure sport and professional boxing that falls under the umbrella of sports is really a business," he said.
Americans hold five world titles in the 12 weight classes. The Cubans have five world champions and Canada has two.
One of the champions is Floyd Favors, 19, of Capitol Heights, who represents the Eastern Branch Knack Club. Favors won the world title last year in Munich at 119 pounds, defeating Viktor Mirosnichenko of the Soviet Union.
Favors, along with Washingtonians Joe King, 18, at 106 pounds, and Lyndon Walker, who became 17 yesterday, at 125, are among 105 boxers invited to a 10-day training camp in Colorado Springs in mid-June as the first step in selecting the U.S. team for the Pan American Games.
Besides Favors, the current world champions from the United States are Steve McCrory of Detroit at 112; Pernell Whitaker of Norfolk, 132; Mark Breland of Brooklyn, 147, and Tyrell Biggs of Philadelphia in the over 201 class. The Gray brothers of Boynton Beach, Fla.--Bernard, 125, and Clifford, 132--are also top contenders.
Although the United States selects its national boxing squad only weeks before the international competition, most other countries maintain a national boxing team, in training for the next Olympiad.
Nappi likes the American approach because "it keeps the kids on their toes" and eliminates a tendency to become complacent.
The policy is to provide as many American boxers with experience in international competition as possible.
American coaching and training philosophies also differ widely from other nations, especially those in the Communist bloc.
"They (Cuba) have a national team all the time; they are working with the same kids," Nappi said.
Another major difference in the American approach is the attitude toward safety, officials say. The United States now requires all boxers in Junior Olympic competition to wear headgear during the three-minute rounds; the use of a helmet is optional in other major national competitions. International boxing competition does not allow headgear.
"Most of the Communist countries train a lot different than we do," said Joe Clough of Laurel, assistant Pan Am coach. "In the Russian gyms, the kids are more banged up physically and they don't wear headgear or mouthpieces . . . ."
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