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Maggie Hendricks

Is coach to blame for Gary Russell Jr. missing the Olympics?

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Gary Russell Jr., one of the United States' best hopes for a boxing gold medal, collapsed while trying to make weight in Beijing on Friday. Russell was found by teammate Luis Yanez after Russell was trying to shed two pounds to make his 119 lb. weight limit. Doctors decided that Russell was not well enough to weigh in as he rehydrated, so he will not compete in the Olympics. All eyes will quickly turn to controversial USA Boxing coach Dan Campbell, as nothing says bad coaching quite like poor weight management.

Campbell required the entire U.S. team, chosen last August, to move to the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs and follow his training regime. In boxing, much like wrestling, judo and other combat sports, the athletes will continue to train with their coaches and visit the OTC for camps. Some athletes do train there full-time, but it is rarely required for an athlete for pick up and move away for a year, leaving their coaches and training partners. Some of the boxers aired their unhappiness with the program publicly, with Saddam Ali talking about it on a radio show, and Yanez saying that the fighters don't like Campbell.

Campbell, and USA Boxing CEO Jim Millman, instituted the year-long program to fight against inconsistency in coaching. One of the upsides of the program, according to Campbell, is that the fighters' injuries were quickly diagnosed and treated, which might not have been so at the boxers' individual gyms. "We're healthy now," Campbell said.

I have to question that health after Russell not only collapses, but does so just hours before the weigh-in. Russell had not weighed in at his weight class, 119 lbs., since the world championships in October, 2007. Elite athletes concerned usually carry more weight than they compete at, called their "walking-around weight." At the elite level, they will start to cut weight well before the weigh-in so that they will be at their peak come competition time. Why wasn't Russell tapering down weeks ago, or being more closely monitored now? Campbell said that Russell wasn't drinking fluids like he had been advised. This is a 20-year-old kid at the Olympics for the first time. I'd say a little hand-holding is called for.

The U.S. has a strong, if small, boxing contingent, and they will likely come home with some hardware. If this happens, Campbell will be credited as a genius, while Gary Russell Jr. will only be able to watch from ringside.

Picture via Associated Press

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