Brilliance not enough for young Americans

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Before the first bell here at the 11th World Amateur Boxing Championships the American team of teenagers and inexperienced fighters was reduced from 12 to 11 when the featherweight Andre Dirrell gave up on making the weight. He was the only boxer to surrender.

During the following days, as the Cubans, Russian and Uzbek boxers cruised through the tournament's early rounds, Dirrell was joined on the sidelines by other Americans and in Friday's finals only Ronnie Siler at light-flyweight and welterweight Anthony Thompson were left. Siler lost and Thompson reached the final but was beaten on Saturday by Cuba's Loren Aragon. The Cubans had nine in the finals and seven winners.

The American team was selected at a box-off in March but none of the 12 had any form at international level and several were making their debuts in the tournament. The problem for the selectors is continuity and so far 10 of America's 12 Olympians and dozens of others from last year's Olympic trials have turned professional.

"Every two years we try and compete with the best in the world and we see the same faces but we have to bring a new group of kids and just hope they can get close," said Johnnie Woluewich, the team manager.

The Americans did a lot better here than they usually do in the event that follows an Olympic year. In Budapest in 1997 the entire team crashed out in the first two days and for the 1999 championships, which were held in Houston, a whole new team was found.

"It is not just the effects of losing the team to the pros after each Olympics, it is the time needed to get these kids ready to compete under the strictest rules against boxers from nations that put all of their resources into their boxing programme. We seem to rely too much on brilliance," continued Woluewich.

Before last week's boxing started Thompson, who is 19, had fought just four international contest and Aragon had entered a total of 46 tournaments and fought nearly 120 times at international level.

"We all know how hard it is to beat the Cubans but it is not just the Cubans because there are a lot of boxers in the World Championship with experience," said Thompson. "We all just tried our best, each man went for his glory but only so much is possible at this level. This is not Rocky, this is the real world and the real world, as any fighter knows, is hard."

To add to the American suffering after several quick exits was the bizarre disqualification of Juan McPherson after two wins. McPherson, who has been in discussions with Emanuel Steward, was informed in the minutes before his bout in the quarter-finals that at 16 he was too young to take part.

"The way Juan was treated was a disgrace and it will not be a surprise if the kid says 'to heck with it' and turns pro. He was ready to rumble, he was looking good, he is a talent and then we find out before the fight that he is out. That sucks, that really sucks. He was heartbroken," Woluewich said.

"It is just one of those things and I'm amazed at the Americans for sending him," said Loring Baker, an American who is the secretary of the International Amateur Boxing Association. "I'm also amazed he slipped through the gap here and was allowed to box."

It is particularly mystifying because the Irish media had a frenzy when they discovered a 16-year-old boy in the American team and his face appeared in several papers.

In addition to McPherson there was Dirrell and Johhny Vasquez at 17, and Jason Estrada and Vernan Kimbrough at 18, all of whom were making their international debuts against men as old as 33 with hundreds of international contests to their credit. It is amazing the young Americans managed a single win.

"We are constantly looking at ways to keep them but the only thing that seems to work is the fact that a medal from the Olympics helps their professional careers," said Gary Toney, the former president of United States Amateur Boxing Inc. "Last year in Sydney our silver medallists were reported to have received in excess of $1m for turning professional."

In two years' time the 12th World Amateur Championships will be in Thailand, where winners from the home country have been promised $100,000 by the Thai government, and it will be interesting to see if McPherson and the other teenagers are in the US team. If they are, and if they win, it could make the boxing tournament in Athens the following year the best so far. The only way to beat the Cubans is to compete next to them for a few years. Brilliance is never enough.