Though United States swimmer Ryan Lochte’s fake robbery story became the defining moment of the Rio Games it was the theft of U.S. boxer Gary Antuanne Russell’s Olympic medal that may have been the most criminal act south of the equator.
In a tournament where allegations of payoffs to judges by the Russian mob led to influencing decisions that may have given Russian boxers advantages in close bouts, another American was “robbed” of his chance for Olympic glory.
Uzbekistan’s Fazliddin Gaibnazarov, right, reacts as he won a men’s light welterweight 64-kg quarterfinals boxing match against United State’s Gary Russell at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2016. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Russell, the Capital Heights native, lost to the eventual gold medalist Fazliddin Gaibnazarov of Uzbekistan in the round of 32 2-1 in a controversial split decision. This was a fight that would have guaranteed him no worse than a bronze medal. Instead he is now left to deal with the despair of nothing to show for the sacrifices he made to be an Olympian.
“I feel like I dishonored my family,” Russell said, while choking back tears, to NBC in the post fight interview from Brazil.
His father Gary Russell, Sr., the patriarch of most successful family in Maryland boxing history, witnessed firsthand in Rio de Janeiro how there seemed to be a trend in the scoring of bouts involving athletes from nation’s which formerly part of the Soviet Union. The elder Russell said that there were rumors throughout the boxing venue in Riocentro Pavilion 6 that members of organized crime from Russian states had been by paying judges leading to favorable decisions.
“The only thing I can surmise is that was bought, Russell, Sr. told the AFRO. “They say Russian mafia and other countries gave large amounts of money so decisions would go their way and that’s what I feel happened to my son.”
Russell was not the only boxer victimized by questionable scoring during the tournament. The scoring became an international incident when the reigning Irish world champion bantamweight Michael Conlan lost his quarterfinal bout to Vladimir Mikitin of Russia. Conlan, immediately went on Irish TV and blasted AIBA, the sport’s international governing body, for cheating. He then took to social media and accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of bribing judges to favor Russian boxers. Conspiracy theorists had a field day with Conlan’s accusations against Russia after the entire track and field team was barred from competition following one of the most elaborate doping schemes ever.
After mounting criticism and an investigation into the first 239 fights of the tournament AIBA dismissed “several” referees and judges from the tournament. Though AIBA didn’t release the names of the officials who were suspended the organization did admit that “that less than a handful of the decisions were not at the level expected,” in its public statement.
For Team Russell, however, it remains a bitter pill to swallow. Normally there’s a twisted irony when you lose to the ultimate champion. Russell, Sr. has now seen the Olympic Gods frown upon his sons in matters outside right the ring twice. In 2008 Gary, Jr. wasn’t able to compete in Beijing when he collapsed trying to make his weight. Antuanne will forever remember his devastating loss after a brilliant – some say – superior effort.
“It was just blatant robbery,” said Russell, Sr. “I would have rather seen him robbed at gunpoint in the ring because that’s what happened. They stole hopes, dreams, and aspirations”.
Antuanne now hopes to follow in the footsteps of former USA Olympians – Evander Holyfield, Roy Jones, Jr., and Floyd Mayweather, Jr. – who lost controversial Olympic decisions but ultimately became world champions. He expects to officially turn pro within the next six months.