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On to London: USMC boxer Jamel Herring hopes to bring home Olympic gold
Rick Scoppe, The Daily News

It’s been very busy,” Herring said in a telephone interview from the U.S. Olympic training facility in Colorado Springs, Colo., where on June 28 he began final preparations for the Olympics in London in late July. “But from now on it’s training.”

Herring, a light welterweight, secured his spot on the Olympic team in early May at the Americas Qualifier in Rio de Janeiro, ending a long and tough journey of earning the right to be called an Olympian for the 141-pound boxer.

“It feels good to say that,” said Herring, who left this past weekend for London with the rest of the boxing team. “There were a lot of frustrations. So I can actually say I know good and well that I earned the title of Olympian. So it’s a great feeling.”

But it really didn’t seem real initially.

“It actually set in when I saw the Olympic training center again, with all the other Olympians from other sports,” Herring said. “It’s starting to set in now.”

Just wait, however. Herring hasn’t seen anything yet, according to USMC boxing coach Jesse Ravelo, who coached six Olympic boxers in his time as the Army boxing coach and can now add Herring to that roster. Wait until he gets settled in the Olympic Village.

“It’s different. Everything’s different,” said Ravelo, who is one of the trainers with the U.S. Olympic team. “The lights are different. When I say the lights, I mean when you get in there to the Olympic Games it’s a whole different book. He’ll come to reality once he steps in the Olympic Village.

“He’ll see all the athletes from every part of the world. That’s when your butterflies start hitting you. That’s when he’s actually going to have to mentally prepare himself and say, ‘I belong here. I’ve made it too far. I’m part of this crowd.’ Once he starts getting that feeling, I think he’ll be OK.”

So far, Ravelo said, Herring has handled himself “pretty well” given the publicity and pressure that comes with being an Olympian. But that will only increase now that he’s in London.

“That’s when it’s going to hit him. Right now everybody is an Olympian, this and that. You get the publicity and the crowd here. But it’s not going to hit you until you get your credentials and step into the Olympic village, that’s when it’s going to hit you,” Ravelo said.

“That’s when it’s really going to hit you and you’re going to say, ‘Wow.’ They don’t know the feeling yet. They don’t know how it is to go to the Olympic Games, all the attention, all the publicity, all the crowds, watching all the famous athletes there. It’s a whole different (world). They don’t know what’s coming, I’m telling you.”

Herring understands, at least intellectually, what’s ahead. He’s heard Ravelo’s stories, and Herring pays close attention.

“They’re very interesting, and I always listen to them,” Herring said. “But I’m the kind of person I have to experience it firsthand. I’m not saying coach is bluffing or whatever. But I’m just the kind of person that has to experience it firsthand and be like, ‘Wow, this is really it.’”

It’s something that Herring wants to experience for himself. It’s something he feels has to experience for himself, especially after the way he earned his spot on the Olympic team, which was far from easy.

“Exactly,” Herring said. “I don’t want to hear (about this). I want to experience it.”

Herring’s journey to London began with the U.S. Olympic Trials, which he won in late August in Mobile, Ala. But because of a change in how the U.S. team was selected, Herring had to finish in the top 10 at the AIBA World Championships about a month later in Baku, Azerbaijan. But he lost his first bout.

That, however, wasn’t the end.

Herring had a second chance — and more. Herring went 6-0 to claim the gold at the USA National Championships in Colorado Springs, Colo., in a field of 78 boxers. That still, however, didn’t land him a spot on the Olympic team.

Herring had to finish in the top five at the Americas Qualifier, which he was assured of doing with a 12-10 win over Marcio Figueroa of Nicaragua in the quarterfinals to become the first USMC boxer to be an Olympian since 1992 when 119-pouind Sergio Reyes made the team.

Herring, a member of the USMC boxing team based at Camp Lejeune, is only the 10th Marine boxer ever to make the Olympic team. The opening bouts in Herring’s light welterweight division are scheduled for July 31, with the final Aug. 11.

“After I qualified, I actually talked to the commandant of the Marine Corps,” Herring said. “He told me that he’s proud of me and the whole Marine Corps is behind me. So it’s been a great sense of pride for me coming from the Marine Corps’ side of things.”

Herring, who during his time in Colorado Springs went through two to three training sessions a day with Sundays off, said speaking to the commandant was only one of many memorable experiences he’s had since he qualified for the Olympics.

There was his trip to Las Vegas with his USA boxing teammates for Timothy Bradley’s controversial win over Manny Pacquiao, which Herring said was probably “the coolest thing” he’s experienced.

“We were getting just as much attention as those other big names in boxing,” Herring said. “They introduced us in the ring as the Olympic team. Got a standing ovation from the crowd. That was a big thing right there.”

Then at the Title Tournament an untold number of youngsters and adults wanted to take a picture with Herring and get his autograph. The same thing happened when he was back home in New York, which he called “a special time” because he got to spend some time with the man who got him into boxing.

 “We worked together to stay in shape and he (taught) me a few new things that he thought I should know,” Herring said. “I was actually more busy than anything even at home.”

Through it all, however, Herring said he’s worked to remain humble.

“I usually only speak when I’m spoken to. At the Title Tournament a lot of kids and even adults came up to me, wanted to take a picture. No problem. I spoke to a few kids, spoke to a few guys out there,” he said.

“For the most part I just stayed focused on what I was really out there for. Not so much all of the flashiness. I still have a job to complete. Even now I still look at it I have a job to complete. When I get out there, I want to get on that podium for that (gold medal).”

Can he do it? Can he bring home the gold? His coach thinks so.

“He’s got a good possibility of going all the way,” Ravelo said. “Physically he’s going to be ready. He’s just got to mentally prepare himself. It’s a whole different world, the Olympic Games. He’s going to have to fight hard. The best in the world is going to be there.”

Herring said his “mission” is to be the best of the best and come home with a gold medal around his neck, and he firmly believes given the road he’s traveled to get this far that he knows what it’ll take and that he’s ready.

“At this point, I just feel confident. I’m more relaxed, focused. I don’t have that pressure anymore because I’ve been there. I’ve been through the ups and downs of the sport. So I know what it takes to be a winner,” he said.

“So right now I’m just basically trying to fine-tune my skill and just leave it all in the ring every fight I have. This is what I worked for. This is what everyone, any athlete, basically wants to be, an Olympian. I have to go out there and represent my country now.”

To view Sgt Herring's interview with ESPN's Bernardo Osuna please go to:

http://espn.go.com/video/clip?i=8174482