Remember how the USA men's boxing team fared in the 2012 Summer Olympics in London?
If you do, Anthony Bartkowski would prefer you forget.
Bartkowski, the executive director of USA Boxing, is leading an effort to overhaul the organization in hopes of putting more U.S. athletes on the medal stand during the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro. After all, in 2012, two U.S. women won medalsone gold and one bronzeand none of the men medaled.
Many of the changes taking place in the organization were on display at the 2013 USA Boxing National Championships held earlier this month at Northern Quest Resort Casino, in Airway Heights, and at the HUB Sports Complex, in Liberty Lake, with assistance from the Spokane Sports Commission. About 320 boxers from throughout the U.S. traveled to Spokane to compete in the open event, and some of the winners will represent the U.S. in the world championships, to be held in Kazan, Russia, this year.
The recent event here was the first of four national championships that will be held in Spokane, with USA Boxing deciding to hold the event here each year through 2016, meaning the road to Rio will go through Spokane for all boxers who represent the U.S. in the next Summer Games.
The Spokane Sports Commission estimates the national championships will bring $500,000 a year into the Spokane communitythe organization refers to its own estimate as conservativeand says it will bring at least $2 million into the region over the course of four years.
Bartkowski, in town last week for the bouts, said the commitment to compete in Spokane annually gives the organization and its athletes consistency as they prepare to become more relevant on the international stage, with many rules changes made to align with the rules of the International Amateur Boxing Association.
This year's national championships introduced new age groups and a new scoring system. Also, for the first time, the men's elite competitors fought without headgear, just as they will when they compete internationally.
In a sport steeped in tradition with routine and precision as its cornerstones, such changes aren't made without protest from the old guard, Bartkowski said. And he's quick to point out the individual gyms that are members don't necessarily have to follow all of the rules when putting on local events.
But those fighters who want compete on an international level will be best served by the changes.
Bartkowski is insistent that boxing doesn't lose fighters to mixed-martial arts, and he makes a convincing argument to back up his assertion. Boxing is, however, competing with that diverse fighting style for young fans. To that end, the sport must do more to remain relevant. Winning medals is one effective way of raising the profile of pugilism.
For a boxing fan, it's interesting to hear about the changes, how they affect the athletes, and how they might improve the U.S.'s chances of taking home more hardware in 2016.
It's equally interesting, though, for an observer of business to see an organization evolve in an effort to improve its competitive standing. One doesn't have to look hard to find parallels to the private sector, where change often only follows the painful loss of customers or some other drop in revenue.
It's a transitional time for USA Boxing, and Spokane will have a front-row seat as this transformation occurs. When the 2016 Summer Olympics rolls around, we'll have all the more reason to root for our young fighters and the organization behind them.
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