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Norfolk woman blazes trail in Olympic boxing
Norfolk woman blazes trail in Olympic boxing

By Ed Miller
The Virginian-Pilot
© July 5, 2012

It appeared to be a case of robbery by scorecard, a common enough crime in boxing that Gloria Peek, although disappointed, rolled with the punch.

Informed last week that she'd been passed over for a spot on the Olympic coaching staff, Peek chalked it up to politics. The snub wouldn't define who she was or what she had accomplished over a groundbreaking career, she said. Peek planned to return to her Norfolk gym and get back to coaching her fighters.

Then, as can happen in the fight game, things changed in an instant. Peek got a call from Anthony Bartkowski, executive director of USA Boxing. Two assistants had left the team. Was Peek still interested?

"Are you kidding me?" Peek said Wednesday. "Thirty-four years in boxing says I'm still interested.

"I was shocked, but it was a nice shock."

Peek flew to Colorado Springs on Tuesday, her 62nd birthday. She will work the training camp there before flying to London.

Peek will be the first American woman to coach in Olympic boxing competition. It is the latest milestone in a career in which she has knocked down walls for women in the sport.

Peek was the first woman to become a Level 4 coach, the highest certification. She was the first to take men's teams to dual meets overseas; the first to work an Olympic training camp, in 2004; and the first to head a team in an international competition, at the 2011 Pan American Games.

Peek also coached at several women's world championships, including this year's. Women will compete in the Olympics for the first time this year, and she said her experience should have made her a natural for the team.

The selection process dragged on, though. USA Boxing was still taking applications as late as last month, after the U.S. Olympic Committee determined its selection procedures were flawed.

The upheaval began in the spring, when Joe Zanders, who had been named Olympic coach in August, resigned. A veteran British coach, Terry Edwards, reportedly turned down the job.

USA Boxing's president, Hal Adonis, was removed by the board of directors last month.

The organization finally announced the hiring of Basheer Abdullah, who led the 2004 team, as head coach last week. It also picked two assistant coaches. One of them, Candelario Lopez, was not on the list of coaches approved by the International Amateur Boxing Association, though, and was forced to resign, Peek said. A second assistant, Israel Acosta, also left.

Peek was next in line.

"It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be on the biggest stage in the world," she said.

Peek said Wednesday that her job description is still being formulated, but she expects to work the corners of male and female fighters. Despite the turmoil in the coaching ranks, the United States qualified nine men and three women for the Games.

Still, the United States has a lot of catching up to do. Other countries have had staffs in place much longer - for years, in some cases. The United States is coming off its worst Olympic showing in history. American boxers won just a single medal in 2008, a bronze.

Dan Campbell, who preceded Peek as director of the city of Norfolk's boxing program, coached the 2008 team.

Campbell resigned after the Games, and the USOC has kept a wary eye on USA Boxing since, reportedly threatening to pull funding if the results don't improve in the ring.

Peek said she's aware the boxing world will be watching. For her, the emotional high of attaining a longtime goal has given way to the sobering realization of the work ahead.

She's up for it, she said. She has spent decades preparing.

"I've worked with the men forever, long before I worked with women, so I'm comfortable with both," she said. "My major focus, my only focus, is helping these guys get to the medal round."

Ed Miller, 757-446-2372, ed.miller@pilotonline.com

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