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US Olympic Boxing Gold Hopeful Prefers to Train at Home


Gary Russell Junior stands 1.6 meters tall, and weighs about 53 kilograms. That doesn't sound physically imposing. But in the boxing ring, Russell is an intimidating force. He's the top-rated amateur fighter in his weight division in the U.S. and third in the world. Some experts believe Russell Junior is the U.S.A.'s best hope for winning a boxing gold medal in the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing.

The red brick house in suburban Maryland does not appear to be a likely setting for the training of an Olympic athlete. But in the spartan basement of this family home, 17-year-old Gary Russell Junior follows a tough training regimen in his quest for Olympic gold.

Tough, but not solitary. Every day, under the watchful eye of his father, Gary Russell Senior, and his coaches, Gary Junior works out with his younger brothers.

The young man known as "Little Gary" to his family explains why he prefers training here rather than a gym. "It's like down here, I'm around just my family. I'm around my little brother, that's boxing. I'm around my dad, and around my other coaches. And it's a lot easier for me to stay focused and it's that one-on-one type training."

More than just a pastime, boxing is a family ritual. Little Gary and three of his brothers -- Antonio, Antuane (antwon) and Allan, have been boxing since the age of seven.

A former boxer, Gary Russell Senior trains his sons to be well-rounded fighters. "We have a saying, 'a diamond shines from all different sides.' So we try to keep them shining from every aspect of boxing."

The Russells' garage is full of trophies and medals -- testimony to the father's coaching skills and his children's' talents. One of the coaches is Robert Martin.

He says Russell Senior is different from other trainers. "Most coaches are satisfied with your throwing punches. They don't care how you throw them. He [Russell, Sr.] wants you to throw them precise."

Little Gary says of his father, "He's [Russell, Sr.] been around me. He knows what I'm capable of doing and what I'm not capable of doing. A lot of these other coaches -- they see me. They see what I do in the ring and stuff. But they never really had that one-on-one training with me, stuff like that."

Usually, either the father or Martin will accompany Gary Junior to his bouts. They see what others do not.

Martin says it’s the little things that really count. "It's the little things that make him [Russell, Jr.] as good as he is. A lot of people can't see the little things. A little shift of the foot, a little shift of the shoulder. And most people can't really see that."

Training and fighting are ways to keep children away from street gangs, but not all of them can escape the violence of the street.

Devaun Drayton, Little Gary's half-brother, was killed in March 2004 in a schoolyard fight over a gun. Devaun was also a boxer, and a good one. His father recalls, "I had four [sons] who box, all of them have different styles. Devaun by far, had the prettiest feet. He was fast. His timing was good. He was really a good kid."

Little Gary says losing his brother still hurts him. "It hurt. I couldn't even ride around a certain neighborhood without thinking about my brother."

Although still in high school, Gary Junior has already known his share of glory and personal loss. His experiences have made him even more focused on winning.

"A lot of guys, when I win, like, a major tournament, it seems like, everyone's more happy for me than I am. And they like, 'Why you not so happy?' I'm like, well, I work so hard at the gym, I really expect to win."

Little Gary next visits Argentina to fight in the Pan Am games, where he will see some of the fighters he could be facing in the 2008 Olympics.

He expects to make the Olympic team -- and to win.