Olympic village roommates Nico Hernandez (Wichita, Kansas) and Carlos Balderas (Santa Maria, Calif.) got their U.S. team off to a strong start in the Rio Olympics but the run ended on Friday afternoon in Rio de Janeiro. Hernandez clinched a bronze medal with his third victory of the tournament on Wednesday but lost in his semifinal bout to Uzbekistan’s Hasanboy Dusmatov this morning.
Balderas enjoyed two Olympic victories early in the week to move on today’s quarterfinal match-up with Cuban Olympic bronze medalist Lazaro Alvarez and he put on an impressive showing in today’s action but dropped a decision on the judges scorecards. Female lightweight Mikaela Mayer (Los Angeles, Calif.) made her long awaited debut a victorious one in Wednesday evening competition.
Twenty-year-old Hernandez clinched the first medal of the 2016 Olympic Games with his third victory of the tournament on Wednesday but he couldn’t extend his winning streak on Friday. Hernandez has lost the first round in all four of his matches at the Olympics and today’s semifinal bout with Dusmatov told the same tale. Hernandez looked to find openings and pick his shots early in the bout and managed to connect with some accurate punches but fell behind after the opening round. He picked up his work rate in the second round but caught a head butt from the shorter Dusmatov that opened a cut over his eye. Although a trickle of blood dripped down his face, Hernandez wasn’t discouraged. The American corner stopped the bleeding and Hernandez came out firing in the third, looking to try and make up the two round deficit he faced. The doctor stopped the bout for a brief minute to check the cut but allowed Hernandez to continue. He finished the bout strongly but dropped a unanimous decision in the semifinal contest. Despite the loss, Hernandez wins a bronze medal in the 2016 Olympic Games following an impressive run through the tournament.
“I didn’t stay on the outside and move enough. I fought his fight instead of my own. I let him come in and make the fight too wild and that’s how I lost. I think I started doing it (throwing body shots) way too late in the fight, not until the last round. I waited too long. I definitely knew it was close. I thought I lost the first round, I thought the second round was really close. The third round I thought I pulled it off,” Hernandez said. “The corner after the first round told me it’s way too close, you have to feint more and move around and pick your shots. Don’t let him get on the inside and make it rough. I tried, I just let him come on the inside and made it a great fight.”
Hernandez has previous experience with cuts in fights that helped him deal with the one he sustained on Friday. “When I got cut, my vision went a little blurry. I couldn’t really see that well. After they cleaned it up (in the corner), it got better,” he said. “It didn’t really affect me too much. I felt a little bit of blood leak down. It didn’t really hurt. I’m pretty sure it will be sore later.”
Although he certainly wanted the top spot on the podium, Hernandez certainly understands the importance of securing a medal. “It’s definitely disappointing because I wanted to go home with the gold medal. I’m leaving with the bronze but I know USA Boxing is proud of me. All of my supporters back home are proud of me so I’m just blessed to be here. It ended the drought of medaling. It was definitely a great feeling to be the first one in eight years but I didn’t want to go home with the bronze medal. I’m definitely proud that I made it to this level. I’m definitely blessed. I know everyone back at home is proud of me win or lose.”
Now that Hernandez is done competing, he looks forward to seeing his teammates compete to join him on the medal stand. “We are just a young, hungry team, staying focused and pushing each other to become better and go out there and be victorious. We definitely love pushing each other at practice and in fights. Since we were little, we’ve always said that when we get there, we’re going to medal and we’ll push each other until we do that and now we are finally here,” he said.
While he doesn’t have a concrete plan for what’s next for him, Hernandez certainly gained a lot from his Olympic experience. “This is definitely a whole nother level of experience, the highest level I’ve ever been on. I learned to just focus on your opponent and not what’s around you or in the stands. I’m going to take a little break after this. Talk to my father about it and see what we come up with,” Hernandez said.
He will receive his bronze medal on Sunday following the light flyweight gold medal bout. Hernandez will appear on NBC’s The Today Show tomorrow morning at 8:30 a.m.
Balderas stepped in to the ring just as Hernandez exited for his quarterfinal showdown with a top rated Cuban foe. The American refused to be intimidated by his more experienced opponent and went right at Alvarez. He enjoyed a strong first round but the judges scored the opening three minutes for the Cuban boxer. He continued his strong work in the second stanza as Alvarez looked out outbox Balderas in the second. The American entered the third down two rounds on the judges’ scorecards and couldn’t overcome his deficit. Balderas lost a 3-0 decision in their quarterfinal contest to eliminate him from the competition.
He felt that the quick turnaround from his previous fight impacted him in the bout. “My previous fight was very, very rough, very tough. That fight took a lot out of me and those two days of rest that they gave me, it wasn’t enough for me to recover fully. The fight against Japan was very tough. I even felt it yesterday at night. It wouldn’t wake up. My body just felt very beat and tired. I did the most that I could. Things happen for a reason, only God knows why,” Balderas said.
He knew that Alvarez had an experience advantage in the match-up, particularly in the Olympic Games. “He was very long, he had a lot of experience, he knew what he was doing. He was just tapping from a distance, waiting for me to get in. I believe I was putting up a good fight. He knew exactly what he was doing. He was managing the distance, he was tapping away and I wasted a lot of energy chasing him down and trying to catch him with one shot. I just fell a little short,” he added.
Balderas opened the Olympic Games in impressive fashion for his U.S. squad and he’s pleased with what he was able to do in his first Olympics. “It (the Olympics) was an amazing experience. I’m happy with how far I’ve gotten. I know I could have done better but I’m just going to keep going forward. I’m going to go home, take a little break, talk with my family and we’ll see what the future holds for me.”
Now that he and his roommate are done competing, they will turn their attention to the five U.S. boxers remaining in the tournament. “We started off very strong, the team started very strong. Me and my roommate (Nico Hernandez) got victories and we still have more victories to come. I’m looking forward to watching my teammates fight as well. I think my team will do very good. I did as much as I could. My teammates are very focused. They are very hungry. I know they are very anxious, they’ve been talking about it in the room and they just say they want to go out there and put on a show to prove everybody wrong.”
The day Mikaela Mayer has been waiting for for nearly 10 years finally came on Friday Riocentro Pavilion 6 as she walked to the ring for her first Olympic bout. Mayer competed in the first day of competition for the women’s bracket in Friday’s evening action. She took on the Federated States of Micronesia’s Jennifer Chieng, a New York native,in her tournament opener. Mayer wasted no time getting started in the bout, exerting her dominance early in the contest. She caught Chieng with clean shots in combination over the first two rounds, even taking the second stanza by a 10-8 margin on two of the judges’ scorecards. Mayer continued to dominate over the final two rounds, mixing in thudding body shots with her skillful movement and accurate straight shots. She rolled through to the end of the fourth round to take a wide, unanimous decision in her first Olympic Games.
“I think I dominated all four rounds, obviously there’s always something to work on. It was my first fight. You’ve got to get your timing, your space, all that stuff down, get the nerves out of the way. I know I’m going to get sharper as the days go by. Billy’s big on using your distance so since I’ve been working with him, that’s something he’s really been stressing. Really getting my full reach out because I do have these long arms so I should use them to my advantage so if I’m not using them, it’s not worth anything,” Mayer said.
“My nerves have been pretty good. You always have nerves no matter how long you’ve been doing this. You’re always going to have nerves. They weren’t more than any other fight. I took a second to realize that I’m about to walk out and compete in the Olympic Games. I took that in for a few seconds, not long. It’s an amazing feeling. It’s a dream come true for me.”
Mayer fell just short of making the Olympic team in 2012 but she feels that the extra four years have given her a whole different perspective on the accomplishment. “I came close in 2012 but I really hadn’t been boxing that long. I was only four years in. It means so much more now. It’s been eight, nine years. I really put the time in. I really had time for this dream to flourish in my brain and it’s really just become who I am. I am this dream so it means so much more now, it really does. The competition has just shot through the roof. the A lot of these girls are experienced. They are coming in with Olympic medals. A lot of these girls are previous Olympians, multiple world champions,” she said.
She believes that the success she’s had despite her late start in the sport should encourage others to chase their own dreams. “I did start boxing kind of late. I think it’s just proof that it’s never too late to start something new. I’ve poured everything I had in to this from day one. I’m going to put everything I have in to this and see where it takes me. This is where it took me so it’s just proof that it’s never too late,” Mayer said.
Mayer will return for her quarterfinal bout with Russia’s Anastasiia Beliakova at 5 p.m. Brazil time (4 p.m. ET) on Monday, August 15. If she is victorious in her quarterfinal bout, she will clinch at least a bronze medal.
American flyweight Antonio Vargas (Kissimmee, Fla.) will step in to the ring for the first time at Riocentro Pavilion 6 at 11:30 a.m. Brazil time (10:30 a.m. ET) against Brazil’s Juliao Neto.
108 lbs/49 kg: Hasanboy Dusmatov, UZB, dec. Nico Hernandez, Wichita, Kansas/USA, 3-0
132 lbs/60 kg/male: Lazaro Alvarez, CUB, dec. Carlos Balderas, Santa Maria, Calif./USA, 3-0
132 lbs/60 kg/female: Mikaela Mayer, Los Angeles, Calif./USA dec. Jennifer Chieng, FSM, 3-0