SYDNEY-Boxers would rather fight with their fists than with words.
So when the U.S. boxing team met the media Wednesday they chose their words carefully. Poised to be one of the strongest U.S. teams in several Olympics, they don't want to jeopardize their chances with incendiary words.
"If the playing field is level, we're going to get our fair share of medals,'' said coach Tom Mustin.
"I'm very optimistic about this team," said Gary Toney. "Hopefully, we've learned from past mistakes."
You know each of the 12 boxers in the 2000 Olympics thinks he will win the gold, but most of them don't want to say too much.
Mustin has been pressed for months to say how many medals it would take to satisfy him, but he won't take the bait. "All I'll say is the wife in the church is praying for seven," he said.
U.S. boxers won a gold and five bronze medals in 1996 and only three medals in 1992. The last time they won more than one gold medal was in 1988 in Seoul when they won three.
"Hopefully, we can come out with 12 gold medals," said Ricardo "Rocky" Juarez, one of the strongest boxers on the team. "USA boxing is coming with a great team to these Olympics. Everyone is well prepared and ready to fight.
Featherweight Juarez is one of three world champions on the team. The others are light flyweight Brian Viloria and heavyweight Michael Bennett.
As usual, the toughest competition will come from the powerful Cuban squad, but Mustin says his team has been working on a secret weapon following rule changes in amateur boxing. To score a point, three of five ringside judges must record it within one second.
"We're working on staying in the center of the ring and off the ropes so all the judges can see your punches," said Mustin. "That's our little secret."
The U.S. coaches also have been stressing conditioning, especially running and weightlifting.
Bennett, who started boxing after serving seven years in prison for armed robbery, said the important thing is for the boxers not to get discouraged when they hit a setback.
"A lot of guys get discouraged, but as long as you keep trying it will come out all right," he said.
Jermain Taylor, of Little Rock, Ark., has lost just once in his last 29 bouts. He credits his success to his enrollment in the resident boxing program of the U.S. Olympic Education Center in Marquette, Mich. Besides his boxing accomplishments, he also has earned his G.E.D.
"I'll be back in Little Rock October 3," said Taylor. "I'll be bringing home the gold."
Taylor said he has stepped up the pace of his training since making the Olympic team.
"I'm doing everything special now," he said. "I'm training harder that ever before in my life. I'm more focused. I want only that Olympic medal."
Taylor credits his cousin Cornelius Spenser with getting him involved in boxing. "He brought me down to the gym," said Taylor. "The coach's son beat me all around the ring.
"But I like it. I didn't quit. I stayed in there. I developed a love for the sport.
"I give it to my cousin for getting me started, even though he gave up boxing a long time ago."
The boxing begins Saturday and runs through Oct. 1.
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