LONDON (AP) — By the time Britain's Anthony Joshua won a thrilling tiebreaker to claim the final gold medal in the London ring Sunday, every fighter from the most successful men's boxing team in Olympic history had already been eliminated for five days.
Although middleweight gold medalist Claressa Shields and bronze-winning flyweight Marlen Esparza saved the Americans from going home empty-handed, the nine U.S. men in London are returning with no shiny souvenirs.
"It's not the way we wanted to go out," U.S. assistant coach Charles Leverette said. "It's tough to take."
A shakeup is coming at USA Boxing, that's for sure. But changes in the worldwide amateur sport could be equally seismic before Olympic boxing returns in Rio in four years.
A pro-style scoring system is expected to be in place well before 2016 as the sport's governing body rids itself of the much-criticized computer scoring system. The move to a 10-point system would fundamentally change amateur boxing, which evolved into a distinct discipline from the pro sport with the computerized scoring that decided bouts on total punches landed, rather than style, power or defensive skill.
Men's boxers also will probably fight without headgear soon, another move by AIBA to make the amateur sport resemble professional boxing in almost everything but the length of bouts, which will still be shorter. AIBA President Wu Ching-Kuo said he is still gathering medical data before announcing the expected move.
Although amateur boxing gets relentless criticism in the U.S. media — particularly from NBC's announcers, who were asked to leave ringside after their vocal complaints about judging in London distracted the judges — the expected changes would get rid of several common complaints from American fighters who don't think the sport prepares them for the pros.
And the U.S. team could learn plenty from nations that adjust their elite talent to the amateur game, still managing to win medals with fighters who plan pro careers.
Take Britain, which took a bounty haul of five medals from its home games, tied with Ukraine for the most in the two tournaments.
Eight years after Amir Khan reinvigorated British amateur boxing with a silver-medal performance in Athens, Britain claimed three gold medals for Joshua, bantamweight Luke Campbell and women's flyweight Nicola Adams. What's more, the British team was impressive, deep and well-prepared for every challenge unique to the Olympic sport.
Those home fans certainly helped as well.
"I felt the hearts of all these people around this nation," Joshua said after rallying from a three-point deficit in the third round for a scintillating win over defending gold medalist Roberto Cammarelle. "That medal represents my journey, and the support from the team. It's much more than a gold medal. It's a life experience."
With two men's gold medals, Britain's men surpassed Italy and the Soviet Union to move into third place on the Olympics' overall gold-medal table. Ukraine and Cuba also collected two golds apiece, and 6-foot-3 heavyweight Oleksandr Usyk produced the non-boxing highlight of the medal weekend with his jaw-droppingly nimble Cossack dance in the middle of the ring after his victory.
Ukraine lightweight Vasyl Lomachenko cemented his claim as the pound-for-pound champion of the amateur game with his second straight gold medal, while 18-year-old flyweight Robeisy Ramirez of Cuba labeled himself as a rising star with a dominant run to gold. They were both bested by Kazakh welterweight Serik Sapiyev for the Val Barker Trophy as the Olympics' best men's boxer.
Zou Shiming of China became the first Olympian to defend a gold medal at light flyweight, the smallest weight category — although the martial arts-trained fighter didn't win many new fans with his holds and disjointed efforts along the way.
Ryota Murata won the second boxing gold medal in Japan's Olympic history, and its first in 48 years. Brazilian brothers Esquiva and Yamaguchi Falcao both medaled in London for a team that had won just one Olympic medal in its entire history, getting the home team's run-up to the Rio Games off to an auspicious start.
Aside from the hapless American men, India and Azerbaijan also left the games in anger and disappointment. India's seven-man team failed to win a medal after a host of close decisions and refereeing mistakes went against them, leading an assistant to claim AIBA is "a mafia." The Azeris also couldn't catch a break, failing to win a gold medal despite arriving in London with several highly rated fighters.
One referee was expelled from the games after inexplicably allowing a beaten Azeri boxer to finish his fight with six third-round knockdowns. Another referee was suspended five days for a seemingly early disqualification. Roughly a dozen fighters protested the results of their bouts, but only two protests were accepted.
"We had some protests, but we followed the procedures," Wu said. "Our reviews are really very, very careful. We slow down the videotape, frame by frame. It's important that our scoring system is transparent and open."
While the men's tournament in London was plagued by occasional officiating problems and the same nonstop bad sportsmanship that permeates every major amateur boxing event, the debut women's tournament was a rousing success, even with just 36 boxers. AIBA has championed the women's sport during Wu's six-year presidency, and Wu plans to lobby for more than twice as many women in Rio.
"AIBA is changing in the last six years," Wu said. "We want to be a clean, honest and transparent organization. In these Olympic Games, I believe we have done our best."