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Irish coach with a vision for USA Boxing’s next golden generation

2018-04-16 14:52:49

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Billy Walsh works on developing new talent and knows the importance of the Youth Olympic Games. Buenos Aires 2018 is his next objective. 

“The average age of our team there was 19. Here we have to develop our kids quicker and tournaments like the Youth Olympic Games help us do that.”

USA Boxing reached a historic low when its men failed to win a medal at an Olympic Games for the first time at London 2012.

Even though Claressa Shields had powered to women’s middleweight gold, and Marlen Esparza bagged flyweight bronze, change was needed for a disappointed boxing nation.

Fast forward two years and Nanjing 2014 saw Shakur Stevenson win Youth Olympic gold as the American fight game’s revival gathered pace.

The year after Stevenson’s triumph, in October 2015, the next piece of the puzzle was put in place. Billy Walsh, the man behind Irish boxing’s rejuvenation after 2008, was drafted in as head coach.

With him came a new approach to the development of the USA’s emerging talent, one that as early as Rio 2016 was already bearing fruit.

“We have a pipeline, it’s all about the system,” says Walsh. “When I arrived at USA Boxing they’d already begun to improve the set-up because the success came in Rio.

“The average age of our team there was 19. Here we have to develop our kids quicker and tournaments like the Youth Olympic Games help us do that.”

With agents queueing up to sign the next Floyd Mayweather, Walsh is under no illusions time is against his team in their race to produce Olympic champions.

He says: “What we have changed is the understanding of the value of an Olympic medal. That is something I think had been lost.

“Now these kids are seeing the impact of the Olympics. We have given them the vision that the Olympic Games is a stepping stone.

“They have seen Shakur, and he still comes in and trains with us, and that’s a great experience for them.”

The Rio 2016 bantamweight gold medal was fought out between two Youth Olympic champions – Stevenson of America and Cuba’s Robeisy Ramirez.

To underline Walsh and his team’s predicament, Floyd Mayweather was watching from the stands ready to snap up the USA’s latest prodigious talent for his stable.

Stevenson had to settle for silver after being pipped in a thrilling battle but Walsh knows his fighter’s experience in Nanjing was vital in getting him on the podium.

He says: “There’s limited access for youths and juniors to international competition and that is a development issue we all face.

“Staying at home and being king of the castle doesn’t work in boxing. It is vital to experience different foods, different time zones and of course different boxing styles.

“If you can get that at a young age, that’s important. You may be good enough but you’ve also got to be prepared.”

Walsh and his team have modernised the centre of excellence in Colorado, with boxers now part of the residential programme, all part of taking them out of their comfort zone to be surrounded by the best.

Individual style is nurtured but there are basics at the core of every fighter from world champion down to raw amateur.

Walsh says: “A boxer’s individual flair has to be accepted but there are punches all boxers have to throw, they need to learn the right way to do it.

“We have a good team around the team and the athletes understand the behaviour they need to display to be in the programme.”

The Youth Olympic Games will see a maximum of four US boxers qualify – two men, two women – so competition for those precious places is fierce.

In May the Continental Championships, a direct route to Buenos Aires, will be held under Walsh’s watchful eye in Colorado.

“We’re developing a pipeline for continued success, that has always been our ambition,” he says.

“The youth guys have been here twice already this year and then they head to Bulgaria (for the international youth tournament in early April).

“We have to look at the complete picture, train them for every scenario, but I think this can be one of the best generations to come through our system for a long time.”

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