In 2012, the men’s U.S. Olympic boxing team failed to garner a single medal. No American man has won gold at the Olympics since Andre Ward in 2004. Carlos Balderas enters this year’s games coming off a terrific run through the 2015 World Series of Boxing, where he was selected the tournament’s Outstanding Boxer. But overall, just five American fighters qualified for Rio this year.
It’s a sorry state of affairs, especially for U.S. fans who came of age in the late 1970s, in the wake of the 1976 squad, the most dominant Olympic team ever asembled.
The 1976 team left Montreal with five gold medals, a silver and a bronze, putting them on the podium in seven of 11 weight classes. Leo Randolph won gold at flyweight and would capture the WBA super bantamweight title in 1980.
Three-time All-Army and Inter-Service Champion Charles Mooney won silver at 119 pounds. He would go on to train many professional contenders and champions.
Fighting at 132 pounds, Howard Davis Jr. won both a gold medal and the Val Barker Trophy as the tournament’s outstanding performer. While he would never manage to win a world championship in the professional ranks, he did challenge three time for titles, losing to Jimmy Watt, Edwin Rosario and Buddy McGirt.
Heavyweight John Tate had the tough task in Montreal of facing Cuban icon Teofilo Stevenson, a three-time Olympic boxing champion and the great amateur heavyweight in history. Tate would have to settle for bronze, but in 1979 he beat Gerrie Coetzee for the vacant WBA world title. He would lose it in his first defense to Mike Weaver, via one of the most dramatic Round 15 KOs in boxing history.
The Spinks brothers, Michael (165 pounds) and Leon (178 pounds), both took home gold. Spinks would shock the world by defeating Muhammad Ali in 1978, in just his just his eighth professional fight. He would lose the rematch, though, and ultimately develop into little more than a glorified journeyman.
Younger brother Michael would become one of the great light heavyweights in boxing history, reigning over the division in one of its most competitive eras. In 1985, Spinks would move to heavyweight and shock Larry Holmes, to become world heavyweight champion.
The greatest star of the 1976 squad, of course, was Sugar Ray Leonard. At age 20, he left Montreal with a gold medal, already a household star. As a professional, he would develop into one of the elite fighters of all time and the main attraction of one of boxing’s greatest golden eras, fighting unforgettable battles with fellow legends like Wilfred Benitez, Roberto Duran, Thomas Hearns and Marvin Hagler.