There are going to be two kinds of boxers at the U.S. Olympic Trials. There are the ones everybody expects to win and go to the Olympics. And there's everybody else.
The first thing every kid is going to be thinking is, "Who'd I draw?" Everybody's praying, "Please don't let me draw the toughest opponent the first night." You want to make the Olympic team, but, almost as much, you want to stick around a while. It doesn't get much worse than losing the first fight. One loss and you're out.
If you're just an average kid, you worry big time about the draw because you know there's a good chance you're going to go up against the best in your weight class. Maybe the U.S. amateur boxing champion. And you know he's going to be a big favorite to win.
So you can't just beat him. You've got to go in there and beat him convincingly. He's the guy with the belt. Just like in the pros, you've got to take that belt away because nobody _ not him and for sure not the judges _ is going to give it to you.
Now, if you're the favorite, the guy with the belt, you've got something else to worry about. You know everyone's going to be coming at you like you're the world champion, that you're in their way and if they can get past you their chances of making the Olympic team get a whole lot better.
So if you're the favorite, you go in with an edge, but maybe with the hardest task, too.
The trials, they're like most amateur tournaments, like the Golden Gloves: fight one night, rest the next, then fight, then rest and so on. You can't worry about holding something back so you'll have something in reserve for the last bout.
You'd better get yourself in the best physical shape you've ever been in in your whole life so you'll be ready for whatever comes up. When I was at the trials I ran every day. Even the days when I fought at night.
The rules at the trials are a lot like at the amateur tournaments and at the Olympics, so there are no surprises. A lot is going to come down to how many punches you land. Still, there's always going to be some kid who panics and starts to head-hunt, and unless he knocks the other guy out he's going to punch himself right out of the Olympics.
The thing about the trials is this: Every night has to be your best night. And even if every night is your best night, you might still get (robbed). No matter where it happens, there's nothing you can do about it.
If it's at the Olympics, you've got USA on your back and you have to be proud of that, no matter what. But everybody's going to see it on TV and they're going to know you were robbed.
If it happens at the trials _ and it does happen; it happened to a couple of guys at mine _ that's even tougher because it's probably not going to be on TV and all you can do is go home and tell everyone "I got robbed" and hope they believe you.
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Roy Jones Jr. of Pensacola won the silver medal in the 156-pound class at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, losing a widely disputed 3-2 decision to South Korean Park Si-hun in the final. Jones later received the Val Barker Award as the outstanding boxer in the Games. He is the current IBF super-middleweight champion. He shared insights on the '96 team with staff writer Bruce Lowitt.