The final stage of Olympic selection for Team USA’s men’s boxing squad took place from 7-12 December with the national trials in Reno. The city was the site of the 1986 AIBA World Championships at which the US won three golds, and nearly 30 years later it was Shakur Stevenson leading the next wave of American boxers on their quest for glory.
Stevenson’s was the most anticipated match-up before the event, and the 2014 Youth Olympic Games winner and AIBA Youth World Champion’s bout against US National Champion Ruben Villa didn’t disappoint. After two defeats at the hands of his opponent, Stevenson eventually secured the bantamweight berth with a brilliant victory that also won him the Best Boxer trophy at the trials.
“I worked really hard in training to get ready (for the trials) and all that hard work has paid off. It means that I’m one step closer to my goal of becoming an Olympic champion. It meant a lot to be able to beat the three people I defeated and because I’d lost previously to Ruben Villa, my first fight with him on the second day of the trials was my toughest. I had to go in there very hungry and determined… that really helped to push me through the tournament,” said Stevenson.
Team USA’s top lightweight, 19-year-old Carlos Balderas, was the only American boxer to have already booked his place in Rio after a stellar WSB season, leaving the remaining nine weight berths wide open. The light flyweight spot will now be taken by Nico Hernandez after he beat former National Champion Leroy Davila, giving himself an excellent chance of making it to the Games.
Pan-American champion Antonio Vargas and Golden Gloves winner Charles Conwell were able to confirm their widely predicted flyweight and middleweight places, while Paul Kroll and Jonathan Esquivel were rather more surprise winners at the 69kg and 81kg categories respectively.
WSB boxer Cam F. Awesome moved down a weight class just before the trials, and he followed a crucial win over Joshua Temple with victory over DeRae Crane to put himself in contention for the Rio 2016 heavyweight competition.
“It’s a great feeling and a relief to make the team, and now that it’s over I can focus on Rio and the Olympics. The guys in my weight class were all great boxers and although I’m more experienced than them, it was my first time fighting at heavyweight. My defence is strong and I have an unorthodox boxing style – nobody knows what I’m going to do next so I can dictate the fight,” said Awesome after his victory.
Full list of winners at the US Olympic Trials
49 kg: Nico Hernandez
52 kg: Antonio Vargas
56 kg: Shakur Stevenson
60 kg: Teofimo Lopez
64 kg: Gary Russell
69 kg: Paul Kroll
75 kg: Charles Conwell
81 kg: Jonathan Esquivel
91 kg: Cam F. Awesome
+91 kg: Marlo Moore