Rau'shee Warren learned how to fight early as he grew up in a tough neighborhood in Cincinnati, Ohio. And now he is using that skill to make history by becoming the first U.S. boxer in 30 years to compete in his second Olympic Games. As VOA's Steve Schy reports, the young fighter hopes to motivate future Olympians to stay with amateur boxing by winning a gold medal in Beijing.
When you meet Rau'shee Warren, he does not look like a fighter. He is small - just 1.62 meters tall and weighs only 50.8 kilograms.
But the flyweight division fighter got an early start - he was just eight years old when he followed his older brother to the gym and started boxing. Rau'shee says his mother Paulette, who has been the guiding force in his life, wanted him to stay out of trouble on the streets.
"Me coming up from a rough neighborhood, it was hard because there were a lot of things going on," explains Warren. "And my Mama didn't want me to be into the streets, because there was always stuff going on that could hurt people. So she always kept me in the gym, and the gym, I always kept me in there (made myself do boxing workouts), because that's [a boxer] what I wanted to be."
Rau'shee was considered a boxing phenomenon as a youth. and at age 17 was the youngest athlete named to the U.S. Olympic team for the 2004 Summer Games in Athens. But he was overwhelmed by the experience and lost his first fight, 22-9 (to China's Zou Chiming).
Now 21 years old, Rau'shee Warren says he is more experienced and relaxed and knows what he can do in the ring. His coach, Mike Stafford agrees. He says the left-handed fighter is smarter and more explosive in the ring - picking his punches and being more patient.
The results have born out that assessment. Warren won a bronze medal at the 2005 World Boxing championships, then improved to a gold medal at the 2007 Championships in Chicago. He has won three national championships, and now he's back on the U.S. Olympic team as the first American boxer to return to the Games in 30 years.
"For me, to come back for the second Olympics, I want kids like (who were) at my age when they went to the Olympics at 17, or still in school," he says, " I want them to look at, like, 'I can be like Rau'shee.' Not follow in my footsteps, but give them pointers, like I think I should stay around for the next Olympics, maybe I can get farther into the Olympics. So I mean it's a good role model."
As a good role model, Rau'shee got his high school diploma in June of 2007. But he also appreciates what his sport has given him.
"Boxing helped me see the world, like see different places, make me want to go other places," Warren says. "You can go fight against different people, have different competitions, also you can meet new people and new friends."
Rau'shee Warren has matured as a fighter, and his travels have broadened his world outlook. He's aware of the controversy surrounding the Beijing Olympics because of China's Tibet and Darfur policies and human rights record. But he told VOA Sports he will not be thinking about that when he steps into the ring.
"My main focus is about what I came here for and that's boxing. Like thinking about that would throw me off track," he says.
What he will be thinking about is winning. Rau'shee added he is not sure who his toughest competitors will be.
"I don't really doubt no fighters (overlook any fighters) because everybody trained hard as I did to get there," Warren says. "Like overall, I ain't (am not) afraid to face the Cubans - like the Cubans got to watch out for me, that's what I feel like. Overall, Russia - because they have a great, strong team and it's like their style changes every Olympics. So I say Russia."
A couple of years ago, Rau'shee Warren was on the medal stand after winning a fight in England. And as the American Flag was raised and the National Anthem played, the reason for all his hard work - the training, the weights, the running - became clear. Now, he wants to experience that moment again. But this time, on the world's biggest stage - at the Beijing Olympics.