Boxing first appeared in the Olympics in 1904 and has been a part of every Games since, except 1912 in Sweden, where boxing was outlawed at the time. Women’s boxing was introduced for the first time at the 2012 London Games with three weight classes. The United States has won the most boxing medals in Olympic history, but has fallen on hard times recently. After winning only one medal at the 2008 Beijing Games, the U.S. men failed to earn a medal at the 2012 London Games, marking the first time that had occurred at an Olympics in which the U.S. participated. On the other hand, the U.S. women in London were successful in their debut, grabbing two medals, including a gold medal by Claressa Shields in the women’s middleweight division. The other historic power in boxing is Cuba, which has earned the second-most medals and gold medals behind the Americans. Cuba has produced many of the most famous Olympic boxers, including two three-time Olympic champions Teofilo Stevenson and Felix Savon.
The Olympics have historically been a breeding ground for some of the most successful professional boxers. Here are a few notable boxers who earned medals at the Olympics prior to their professional careers:
- Cassius Clay/Muhammad Ali (USA): 1960 Rome Games – won light heavyweight gold
- Joe Frazier (USA): 1964 Tokyo Games – won super heavyweight gold
- George Foreman (USA): 1968 Mexico City Games – won super heavyweight gold
- “Sugar” Ray Leonard (USA): 1976 Montreal Games – won light welterweight gold
- Evander Holyfield (USA): 1984 Los Angeles Games – won light heavyweight bronze
- Lennox Lewis (CAN): 1988 Seoul Games – won super heavyweight gold
- Roy Jones Jr. (USA): 1988 Seoul Games – won light middleweight silver
- Oscar De La Hoya (USA): 1992 Barcelona Games – won lightweight gold
- Wladimir Klitschko (UKR): 1996 Atlanta Games – won super heavyweight gold
- Floyd Mayweather Jr. (USA): 1996 Atlanta Games – won featherweight bronze
- Andre Ward (USA): 2004 Athens Games – won light heavyweight gold
- Gennady Golovkin (KAZ): 2004 Athens Games – won middleweight silver
- Amir Khan (GBR): 2004 Athens Games – won lightweight silver
Since the 2012 London Games, boxing has made several significant rule changes. In 2013, the International Boxing Association (AIBA) unveiled several rule amendments ahead of the Rio Games, two of which will move the Olympic sport much closer to the professional version. First, male boxers will no longer wear headgear as they have since its introduction at the 1984 Los Angeles Games. Second, the scoring system will now use a pro-style, 10-point system, discarding the previous system in which the five ringside judges counted the number of scoring blows obtained.