With one spot in each weight class all that's available, the odds are against the nearly 400 fighters who are gathered this week in Cincinnati, Ohio with the goal of earning a trip to the men's boxing U.S. Olympic Team Trials in Mobile, Ala. Three members of Chattanooga's Westside Boxing Club are among those attempting to defy the odds.
Ryan Martin, Avious Griffin and Roger Hilley arrived in Cincinnati on Sunday and will begin competing today in the Last Chance Qualifier tournament. So many fighters entered the competition originally scheduled today through Friday, it had to be extended through Saturday for weight classes with more than 32 athletes.
The first three days of action will be preliminary-round bouts. Some quarterfinals and semifinals will be held Thursday and some semifinals and championship bouts will take place Friday.
“It looks like all three of ours will have to all go six days in a row,” said a hopeful Andy Smith, who coaches the Westside fighters. “We'll give it our best shot and see what happens.”
Martin, an Under-19 national champion in 2010, went with high hopes to the U.S. Boxing National Championships last month in Colorado Springs, Colo. Those hopes were dashed in his first bout, a 20-12 loss by decision to Anthony Flores of Inglewood, Calif.
“He drew a boy from California who was just a tough fighter,” Smith said. “Ryan didn't fight his best fight and just came up short.”
Smith said the experience in Colorado revealed that Martin, who turned 18 in February and is an upcoming senior at Central High School, was still young for his frame to be fighting in the 141-pound class. After talking things over with his coach, he's decided to fight in 132-pound class this week.
“I feel good going down a weight class,” Martin said. “I should be stronger at 132. I had to lose 10 or 11 pounds in a week. It was tough, but I still feel like I have energy. I've just got to be more aggressive. I've got to be busier. I need to throw my punches more effectively, as in combination-wise.”
Griffin (141) and Hilley (123) are 17-year-olds. Griffin will be a senior at East Ridge and Hilley will be a junior at Sequoyah in Soddy-Daisy, Tenn.
The Westside fighters' training leading up to this week has included some sparring with members of Atlanta's Police Athletic Club. Smith noted that with youth comes uncertainty, but his troops are nothing short of willing.
“We're prepared,” Martin said. “We've got our minds ready. We know what we've got to do and we're going into this thing together.”
The Trials in Mobile are slated July 31-Aug. 6. The 2012 Summer Olympic Games are scheduled for late July and early August in London.
Kelley Smiddie is a sports writer who has worked at the Times Free Press for 12 years. He covers high school sports and softball. Kelley’s hometown is Chattanooga, and he graduated from Brainerd High School and graduated Chattanooga State and UTC. Contact Kelley at 423-757-6653 or firstname.lastname@example.org.