By Rebecca Harris | @MsRebeccaHarris
RIO DE JANEIRO — Eight years after the last time an American stood on the podium for men’s boxing, first-time Olympian Nico Hernandez will receive the bronze medal in the men’s light flyweight event, ending the sport’s drought at the Olympics. Deontay Wilder won a bronze in Beijing in the heavyweight division.
“I’m proud to end the drought of medaling for USA Boxing,” Hernandez said after his fight.
Hernandez lost, 3-0, to Uzbekistan’s Hasanboy Dusmatov in a semifinal bout. He was out-boxed in the first and second rounds, losing both times, 10-9, from all three judges.
“In the third round they were saying, ‘It’s way too close. You’ve got to go out there and feint more, move around, don’t let him get inside. Make it rough,’” Hernandez said. After getting a small cut close to his left eyebrow taped in the middle of the third, Hernandez thought he rallied enough to win the round, 10-8, tie the bout, and get another chance during a tiebreaker round.
In the end, Dusmatov won by unanimous decision. Hernandez had secured a bronze medal with a unanimous decision over Carlos Eduardo Quipo Pilataxi of Ecuador on Wednesday. A victory on Friday would have advanced Hernandez to the championship bout and guaranteed at least a silver medal.
“I definitely knew it was close,” Hernandez said. “I knew I lost the first round, I thought the second round was pretty close and the third round I thought I had pulled it off.”
U.S. coach Billy Walsh said that 80 percent of boxers who win the first round also win the bout, but he was hopeful the judges would reward Hernandez’s improvement.
“We thought we won the last round,” Walsh said. “I thought we’d have at least a chance for silver.”
Two of the three selected judges, Kheira Sidi Yakoub of Algeria and Allan Roos of Finland, scored the third round, 10-9, in favor of Hernandez. Roland Juhasz of Hungary scored the round, 10-9, in favor of Dusmatov.
Hernandez placed silver in the Americas Olympic Qualifying Event earlier this year and while he’s happy to medal at the Olympics, he wishes he had a shot at a different color.
“It’s definitely disappointing because I wanted to go home with the gold,” he said. “But I know USA Boxing is proud of me. I know my supporters back home are proud of me win or lose. So I’m just blessed to be here.”
Despite the mixed feelings, Hernandez said the opportunity to compete on the world’s largest stage was invaluable.
“It was definitely a whole other level of experience, the highest level I’ve ever been on,” he said. “Being here with Coach Billy I learned a lot. He has a lot of experience.”
Hernandez plans to return home at the end of the Games and take a break from boxing after several years of intense training. He said he’ll talk with his father and coach, Lewis Hernandez, about his future.
Hernandez has several tattoos, each commemorating a special moment or idea. Although none represent the 2016 Games, he isn’t willing to give away any design ideas yet.
“I’m not sure,” he said, cracking a smile. “I’ll see what happens from here.”
Rebecca Harris is a student in the Sports Capital Journalism Program at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.