H2H Blog

Unable to make U.S. team, Brooklyn boxer chases Olympic dream with Haiti

temp-post-imageRichardson Hitchins fought in the New York Golden Gloves tournament in April. (AP)


RIO DE JANEIRO – He walked around the Olympic boxing center wearing red, white and blue, and spoke frequently, passionately, about making his country proud.

“I want to do this for my country,” he said again and again and again.

Richardson Hitchins is a 19-year-old from Brooklyn who believes he’s destined for greatness. He doesn’t put limits on himself, and though he’s eyeing an Olympic medal he already is thinking down the road.

You will remember his name, Hitchins promises.

“I can do big things in this sport of boxing,” Hitchins said. “Real big things. You’ll see.”

His first task will be to win his Olympic debut on Wednesday against a pesky rival with whom he’s struggled. They’ve fought twice, and Hitchins has lost each time, including in the finals of the U.S. Olympic Trials.

But Hitchins is a guy with a deep belief in his ability. It’s almost as if he views an Olympic medal as his destiny.

The irony of the draw is that in the first round of the Olympics, in the biggest fight of his life, he’ll face the guy who nearly snuffed out his dream.

He’ll be standing across from Gary Antuanne Russell, the U.S. representative at light welterweight, as well as coach Billy Walsh and all his former Team USA teammates.

Richardson Hitchins will be fighting not for the U.S., but for Haiti. His country, as he now calls it.

“Me and my coach had been talking about it for a while,” Hitchins said of representing Haiti and not the U.S. “He told me I should do it, but I was like, ‘Nah, man. I want to qualify for the U.S.’ But once I’ve seen all the attention I started getting and how much better it felt qualifying for Haiti, I said, ‘Yeah, let’s do this.’ ”

That Hitchins is even in the Olympics is thanks to the generosity of former world champion Andre Berto, who represented Haiti 12 years ago. In 2004, Berto was the favorite to make the American team but was disqualified after throwing Juan McPherson to the canvas in what was regarded as a flagrant foul.

Berto’s parents are of Haitian descent, and so he took a spot on Haiti’s 2004 Olympic team. His Haitian roots have always been important to him, and Berto did yeoman’s work to help the tiny island nation recover after the devastating earthquake in 2010.

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Berto’s publicist is Julie Goldsticker, who also does public relations for USA Boxing. She told Berto about Hitchins, whose parents also are from Haiti.

And though the two hadn’t met, Berto paid for Hitchins to fly to Azerbaijan in June for a qualifier in order to help Hitchins make the Haitian Olympic team.

“I didn’t know him at all, but I guess through his connection with Julie, this happened,” Hitchins said. “He really took Julie’s word for it. The type of person he is, he did it out of generosity and said, ‘All right, I’m going to give this kid a shot.’ He’s making a dream come true. And I hope to do that for a kid one day, too.”

But Hitchins wasn’t certain after being eliminated in the U.S. Olympic Trials that he wanted to go to Azerbaijan and try it again for Haiti.

He’d always had talent, but he was suffering from doubt that sometimes prevented him from performing at his best.

“Julie told me to go out there, and ‘do you,’ and everybody else was convincing me [to go to Azerbaijan],” Hitchins said. “My friend, Shakur [Stevenson, a bantamweight on Team USA], my coaches, everybody, they were convincing me. I was ready to turn pro.

“I still had mental hurdles even then. I was like, ‘Yo, damn. This is international. This is a different stage.’ But once I got out there I realized none of these guys were on my level. I was out-skilling them easy.”

He needed to get to the quarterfinals or further, and managed to make it to the semifinals. That put him on the team and in position to follow his dreams.

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