Wilder exit leaves U.S. boxers empty-handed

BEIJING (Reuters) - Deontay Wilder’s defeat by Clemente Russo in a heavyweight semi-final on Friday ended the United States’ hopes of winning a Beijing Olympics boxing title.

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Wilder, the only American out of nine to have reached the last four, lost 7-1 to Italian world champion Clemente Russo and will go home with just a bronze, his team’s only medal.

“He was the strongest, I couldn’t have done more,” said the 22-year-old Wilder, who took up boxing just three years ago and suffered against the much more experienced Russo.

“Look where I was three years ago”, added the American, who is now expected to turn professional and has plenty of ambition.

“I want to be the heavyweight world champion,” he said. “I have the work ethics and a big heart.”

For amateur boxing, however, Wilder proved not good enough and sealed the U.S. team’s worst Olympic boxing performance.

The situation is a major embarrassment for a country who have won a record 48 Olympic boxing golds and produced such great champions as Muhammad Ali and Sugar Ray Leonard.

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The Americans have won just one gold from the past three Games including Beijing, by light-heavyweight Andre Ward four years ago in Athens.

After a year-long residency program in Colorado Springs, they had come to Beijing on a mission to redeem themselves. The results, however, suggested a total failure.

“It’s a whole new program”, Wilder said of the Americans’ efforts to come to terms with amateur boxing. “We can’t come out on top just like that.”

The American campaign started in traumatic fashion with bantamweight Gary Russell Jr. pulling out even before the draw after collapsing while struggling to make his weight.

Everything kept going wrong after that with their two world champions, flyweight Rau’shee Warren and welterweight Demetrius Andrade, both failing to make it to the medal bouts.

One of the U.S. team’s problems is their best boxers are impatient to turn professional and rarely stay in the amateur ranks. Another is a struggle to adapt to the electronic scoring system introduced after the 1988 Seoul Olympics judging scandal.

Editing by Greg Stutchbury