This past weekend, Andre “S.O.G.” Ward dispatched veteran Colombian fighter Alexander Brand with a signature finesse that he's shown since the earliest days of his nascent rise in the squared circle.
It is a pugilistic beauty that was birthed in the East Bay of Northern California and honed by Ward’s godfather and trainer, Virgil Hunter. Early on, his boxing genius was evident and sculpted like an artisan with delicate wet clay. As a 19-year old before winning a gold medal, Ward had a six-year amateur winning streak and was already a favorite of insiders who knew the Olympic terrain as he prepared for Athens in 2004.
Eight years prior, David Reid, a Philadelphia light middleweight that went 19-2 with 17 KOs in professional competition, was the last American to score a gold medal in the 1996 Atlanta games.
(David Reid at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, Photo Credit: Ring TV)
It was the same games where the future boxer-businessman hybrid, Floyd “Money” Mayweather would score a begrudged bronze medal at featherweight. He would vow to avenge the slight with an undefeated professional record and immense pay-per-view wealth, something he accomplished in full.
However in an epic comeback, Reid, who trailed his Cuban opponent by a virtually insurmountable 10 points going into the third and final round, slipped a punch and countered with a straight right that knocked out Alfredo Duvergel for the gold medal in '96.
(Andre Ward battling in the 2004 Olympics, Photo Credit: AP)
Back in November of 2003, Ward told the San Francisco Chronicle about when he met with David Reid, who at the time was a coach in Reno, Nevada.
"I had breakfast with David Reid this morning," Ward said. "It was pretty cool. We talked about the Olympics. I always like to talk to guys who have been somewhere I haven't been. I was surprised he remembered me from the U.S. Championships (in March 2003). I beat one of his guys in the semifinals. He remembered me."
Ward’s humility belied his ambition to achieve light heavyweight top honors in the worldwide boxing competition that only comes every four years. Oscar De La Hoya achieved his gold in 1992 at the Barcelona games and with Reid achieving the top honors in the following Olympics, the gap between Atlanta and Athens was deep without a gold from the U.S.
(Andre Ward at the 2004 Athens Olympics, Photo Credit: AP)
Like all boxing Olympic tournaments, five judges scored each bout in Athens; three of the judges had to signal a scoring punch within one second for the punch to score. The winner of the bout was the boxer who scored the most valid punches by the end of the bout.
Ward blew out Italian Clemente Russo in the Round of 16, then Evgeny Makarenko of Russia in the Quarterfinals. He had a close call with Utkirbek Haydarov in the semi-finals and finally dispatched Magomed Aripgadjiev of Belarus for the Olympics ultimate prize.
"I came up a little different in my Olympic days,” said Ward during the open workout last week for his fight in Oakland. “Virgil Hunter is the type of coach who will get you away from everybody and turn your phone off. We didn’t have snapchat in 2004; we didn’t have Instagram in 2004. We had a room that we all had to huddle around with desktop computers where we all had to get news about what was going on.”
Since, Athens, Ward went on to have an undefeated professional career replete with championships in two divisions. His gentlemanly qualities are brighter than ever with the same consistency he has shown in the ring.
Now looking to face Sergey Kovalev in November and unifying the light heavyweight titles on his first pay-per-view outing, Ward shows what a true Olympian can and should look like when they honor their dreams with dedication.
( Photo Credit: Roc Nation Sports)
As he observes this generation of Olympians going to Rio, Ward was reflective before the weigh-ins for Alexander Brand with a candid yet poignant message as the U.S. Boxing team’s last gold medalist.
“I see the USA team snapchatting and Instagramming," Ward said. "Part of you wants to tell them to shut it down and do it like I did it, but that may not be the right thing. Understand you’re not going to get this moment again. You don’t typically repeat when you go for the Olympics. Understand why you’re there. Take it seriously and everything else will fall in place.”