By Ed Miller
© August 14, 2012
Gloria Peek missed her Olympic homecoming connection. Her flight from London was late, stranding her in Washington for a couple of hours.
Considering she was completing a trip 34 years in the making, it wasn't long to wait. Still, when Peek stepped into the terminal at Norfolk International Airport on Monday afternoon, travel-weary but still running on Olympic adrenaline, she said she felt like Dorothy from "The Wizard of Oz," finally back in Kansas.
A dozen well-wishers from her Norfolk boxing gym added to the feeling, bursting into applause, lining up to hug her and presenting her with a bouquet of roses.
An assistant coach for the U.S. boxing team, Peek, 62, made history on several fronts in London. She became the first American woman to coach Olympic boxing, the first in the world to coach male fighters at the Games, and the first in the winning corner at a medal bout.
In a U.S. effort that was a historic disappointment overall, she played a major role in the team's lone shining moment, coaching middleweight Claressa Shields to a gold medal. Another American woman, Marlen Esparza, won bronze. The men's team failed to medal for the first time in Olympic history.
"The women carried it," Peek said. "Unfortunately, the men didn't step up."
Peek coached both, working every bout but two. She began her career coaching men, before women were allowed to fight.
She'd coached on the highest level for years, but a spot on the Olympic team had eluded her. Peek worked the training camp in 2004, and was passed over in 2008.
When USA Boxing finally got around to naming a coaching staff for 2012 - just weeks before the Games and after the original coach resigned and the organization's president was removed by the board of directors - it appeared Peek had been snubbed again. She was added to the team only after it was discovered that another assistant was not on the list of coaches approved by amateur boxing's international governing body.
The confusion only added to the perception of USA Boxing as a dysfunctional organization plagued by political in-fighting.
Peek said she didn't see much in London to silence the organization's critics.
"It's no secret that they've got a lot to work on," she said. "If they don't tear it down and revamp it then we're' going to be back in the same boat. And when I say revamp it, I mean top to bottom."
Disappointment in the ring was not enough to tarnish Peek's Olympic experience, however. She marched in the opening ceremonies, lived in the village, and did her best to soak it all in.
"Where else can you go and touch the entire world, in that one place?" she said. "It's just fabulous.
"It's not about religion, it's not about race, it's not about different languages. It's just about the spirit of the athlete, the competition, and trying to be your best and represent your country. It's definitely worth the struggle, just to experience that."
Peek's eager to get back at it. After a day or two of rest, she plans to return to her Barraud Park gym. A couple of her young fighters fared well at the recent Ringside World Championships in Kansas City, and that has her looking ahead.
"My mind right now is already on 2016," she said. "The last goal I have is to put one or more Norfolk boxers on the Olympic team."
Ed Miller, 757-446-2372, firstname.lastname@example.org
For original article, click here.
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