Celebrity Boxing Fan: Former Olympic sprinter Ato Boldon
Sprinter Boldon is in center lane.
QUESTION: Who are the only three male track and field athletes to have won four individual Olympic sprint medals?
Answer: Carl Lewis of the United States, Frankie Fredericks of Namibi, and Ato Boldon of Trinidad and Tobago.
However, track and field wasn’t the sport that captured Boldon’s fancy at a very young age; it was the art of pugilism. Ato was seven years old when his countryman Claude Noel won the vacant WBA lightweight title against Rodolfo Gonzalez in 1981 in Atlantic City.
“When I was growing up – very young – we didn’t have a lot of heroes,” says Boldon, now 34.
“Two we had were Noel and eventually Leslie “Tiger” Stewart. My appreciation for boxing came through them. You’re talking about a country with a population of one million. When somebody wins a world title, that’s the only news there is.”
Boldon, though, did not consider trying boxing for himself.
“I never got introduced to it,” he says. “It’s nothing my parents would have pushed me into. My parents wanted me to be a priest or a lawyer.”
His track career started by chance. “I got discovered in New York [where he moved at 14]. I was a high school soccer player in Jamaica, Queens.”
Legend has it that the track coach saw Boldon sprint by during a soccer practice.
The rest is history.
Boxing still intrigues Boldon, though, who captured the world championship in the 200m in 1997 in Athens, and won bronze in the 100m and 200m at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.
“As a former world-class sprinter, boxing appeals to the individual in me,” he explains.
“Most boxers have a lot of swagger. Sprinters do as well. In sprinting, just one mistake can be the difference of winning and losing. It’s the same in boxing.”
When asked who are his favorites of today, Boldon says, “I really like Shane Mosley. I enjoyed Oscar [De La Hoya]’s career. Zab Judah has a lot of style and swagger. Of course, I liked [Evander] Holyfield and [Mike] Tyson. Floyd Mayweather is probably my favourite, currently.” Boldon thinks we’ll see the allegedly retired wunderkind in the ring again.
“One thing he always made clear is he’s about the money. I think he’ll be back if the money is right. I understand his motivation.”
Boldon is a little down on today’s heavyweight situation, though, terming it “lackluster.” And adds, “Another boxer I really liked to watch was Prince Naseem Hamed. I just loved to watch him fight. Though I worried about his defence, or lack thereof. We need more personalities like him in boxing and in sprinting, too. In boxing and also in track and field you have the people who say, ‘Just shut up and box. Just shut up and run.’
“Then, when those personalities disappear from the scene, those same people say, ‘Oh, it’s kind of boring around here’.”
Almost forgetting, Boldon thinks of another boxer to add to his favorites.
“Razor Ruddock – because he was Jamaican [Ato’s mom is Jamaican]. And he used to throw the occasional low blow.”
Best fight he’s seen? “Probably Marvin Hagler-Sugar Ray Leonard. I could watch that fight every day for the rest of my life and enjoy it.” Like most of us, Boldon is not sure who really won. “When I was younger I rooted for Leonard. Now when I watch it, I think Hagler may have had a point.”
When Boldon was active, he occasionally went to Las Vegas with some of his track pals. But he mostly prefers to watch the big fights on pay-per-view at home.
After retiring in 2004 after the Athens Olympics – where he captained the Trinidad and Tobago 4 x 100 relay team to their first-ever final – Boldon has become a CBS and NBC television broadcast analyst for track and field. He shined for NBC during the Beijing Olympics with his enthusiastic and memorable calls of the sprint events, particularly the spectacular performances by 100 and 200 meter star Usain Bolt, LeShawn Merritt, and Veronica Campbell as well as the relay races.
Today, Boldon lives in California. He is a renaissance man, of sorts. The father of two daughters also works as the coach of the Saudi Arabian sprint team and earned his pilot’s licence in 2005. Boldon was sworn in in 2006 as a Senator of Trinidad and Tobago, representing United National Congress, but resigned last year citing issues with leadership.
Boldon also wrote, produced and directed a DVD film entitled Once In A Lifetime: Boldon in Bahrain, which documents his 2005 voyage to Bahrain where Trinidad and Tobago won 1-0 in a play-off to become the smallest country ever to qualify for the World Cup (of 2006).
But which sprinter could have been a great boxer? “I had a teammate, John Steffensen, who was a Commonwealth champion from Australia. He said he used to box. Then one day he got into a fight on the track and got his ass kicked,” Boldon recalls with a smile. “I started questioning his boxing credentials after that.”
And which boxers would make great sprinters? “Probably Thomas Hearns,” answers Ato. “I could see Hearns running a good 400. I think boxers are just great athletes. They have to get in incredible shape to do what they do.”
Check out Ato’s web site www.atoboldon.com