As a Marine sergeant who has served two tours of duty in Iraq, 141-pound light welterweight boxer Jamel Herring of Coram is perfectly positioned to gain Olympic stardom if he can earn a spot on the medal podium in London.
But that's a huge "if."
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Herring's dominance on American soil over the past year certainly suggests he has the talent to medal, but his international experience is limited and spotty. In his first trip to the AIBA world championships last November in Azerbaijan, Herring lost his opening match to China's Hu Qing, 20-5, and after he reached the semifinals in the Americas qualifier in May in Brazil to make the Olympics, the Long Islander lost to Puerto Rico's Francisco Vargas, 11-6.
As Herring has learned, there is a difference in boxing styles between American and international tournaments.
"Most of the amateurs in America have a pro style and will go with you toe to toe, but the amateurs in Europe and Asia do a lot of pop shots and run," Herring said. "In international competition, you have to show a really effective blow for the judges to give you a point. You have to sit down and put some impact behind your punches for the judges to see.
"I feel I've gotten a lot better. A lot of coaches who have seen me from the Olympic trials [in 2011] to now feel I'm stronger and better."
Jesse Ravelo, who coached the 1996 U.S. Olympic team and now runs the Marines' boxing program, has spent the past four years working with Herring to develop his power to impress international judges whose input to the computer system determines the final score of the three-round matches.
"You've got to beat the computer," Ravelo said. "I had him develop that power so that, when he hits somebody, that head either jerks or the body jerks and you get that point."
Herring admitted he let down at the Americas qualifier once he made the Olympics, but he figures the hard road back from the loss at the worlds to reach London will help him with the medals on the line.
"I've had a lot of experience in this sport now, a lot of ups and downs," Herring said. "I've been through the worst. This will be my last amateur showcase, so, let's finish strong and go to the next level."
Herring's first bout is scheduled for Tuesday, but his opponent won't be known until after the boxers make weight. He needs to win three matches to reach the medal round.
After the Olympics, Herring's Marine Corps career ends in November, and that's when he plans to start a pro career at the late-blooming age of 27. So there's pressure on him to have a strong showing in London.
"He's got everything he needs to be able to medal," Ravelo said. "He'll have a tough time with the Eastern European boxers, Ukraine, the Cubans, the Germans. But he has what it takes to beat anybody.
"I told him, 'Your future is not making the Olympic team. Your future is to medal.' That's what promoters look at. If he wants to make it in the professional business, he needs to medal and do well there."
BOXING IN THE OLYMPICS
Olympic boxing tournaments are not seeded, so it is possible for the two best fighters in a weight division to meet well before the medal round. Also, since 1952, semifinal losers do not have a box-off for third place, so two bronze medals are awarded.
Future heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield was among those bronze medalists after a controversial light-heavyweight semifinal loss at the 1984 Los Angeles Games to New Zealander Kevin Barry, whom Holyfield apparently had knocked out in the second round. Yugoslav referee Gligorije Novicic disqualified Holyfield for a late hit. Yugoslavia’s Anton Josipovic, the eventual gold medalist beckoned Holyfield into the ring to join him on the winner’s podium.
Did you know?
American Eddie Eagan, the Olympic light-heavyweight champion at the 1920 Antwerp Games, is the only person to win a gold medal in both the Winter and Summer Olympics. In 1932, he was part of the victorious four-man U.S. bobsled team at Lake Placid. Eagan modeled himself on the fictional dime-novel hero Frank Merriwell. A graduate of Yale, Harvard Law and Oxford, he had a career as a lawyer and, when he died in 1967, was buried with both his gold medals.
Women’s boxing debuts in London in three weight classes — flyweight (112
-- JOHN JEANSONNE