Its finally official that Team Russell – Maryland’s first family of boxing – is sending another Olympian to compete in the 2016 Games. Gary Antuanne Russell joins his brother Gary Russell, Jr. as the latest fighters from the free state to fight on the world’s biggest sports stage after completing the international qualification process in Baku, Azerbaijan.
Capital Heights, Md. native Gary Antuanne Russell will compete for the USA Boxing Team in the 2016 Rio Olympics. (Photo courtesy of NBCOlympics.com)
The newest Russell family Olympian had previously made the Team USA in May there but was no guarantee he would compete in Rio. After making the national team there’s an international qualifying process boxers must finish to fight in the Olympic tournament. Russell clinched his chance to participate with a unanimous three-round decision over Obada Olkasbeh of Jordan in June.
“I’ve always been an Olympian but it feels good to be one step closer,” Russell told the AFRO after his qualification bout.
Since 2000 boxers around the world have had to qualify for their spots internationally while also winning their national trials. Russell went from US Olympic Training Camp in Colorado Springs to the Americas Olympic Qualifier in Buenos Aires, Argentina before clinching his slot in Azerbaijan.
Antuanne joins his brother Gary, Jr. as the Olympians in the most decorated family of boxing in Maryland history. Gary, Jr. made the 2008 Olympic team but wasn’t able to compete after collapsing when trying to make the 119-pound bantamweight in Beijing, China. However, Gary, Jr. has rebounded and is currently WBC World Featherweight Champion.
All that is missing from this family’s boxing legacy to be complete is to add an Olympic medal to its trophy case. Antuanne is poised to do just that. With blazing hand speed, a terrific jab, and knockout power, this Russell could be one of the stars of the tournament and jump start his pro career.
“Combinations, my jab and good defense have been the keys,” said Russell.
The four brothers – Gary, Jr., Gary Allen Russell, Gary Antonio Russell, and Gary Antuanne Russell – have all won national Golden Gloves championships. Now on the heels of Gary Jr’s professional success Antuanne hopes that the lessons learned from his brother’s disappointment in China will fuel his run to the Olympic podium.
Russell has also demonstrated resilience on the road to Rio. He lost his first qualification match at the United States Olympic Trials which sent him to the loser’s bracket. From there he marched onto Team USA with three consecutive victories which is the rarified air that only former Olympians and world champions including Floyd Mayweather, Jr., Muhammad Ali, Evander Holyfield, and his brother Gary, Jr. claim.
These are by no means the glory years for United States amateur boxing. In fact, this Olympics will feature the smallest team of boxers in a non-boycott games since 1908. Russell joins a six-man team with no athletes fighting above the middleweight division. The face of USA boxing now is defending women’s gold medalist Clarissa Shields who returns to Rio to defend her middleweight title.
The United States has won more Olympic boxing medals than any country in history. However, Team USA boxers have not won a medal of any kind since 2004 when former world champion Andre Ward – the former undisputed super middleweight champion – won the gold medal as a light heavyweight.
Despite his family’s pedigree Antuanne still remains under the international radar heading to the 2016 games. Russell’s trump card is the savvy of his father Gary, Sr. the steward of their boxing success and master tactician.
“You have to have a certain mindset where you are willing to change the strategy if needed and know you’re going to find a way to make it work.”