Rahim Gonzales began training in 2004 specifically for this summer. That’s when he started boxing and visualizing himself in American garb — representing his country in the Summer Olympics that were postponed last week amid the coronavirus crisis.
“It’s always been a lifetime dream,” Gonzales said.
And one more year?
Well worth the wait.
The 23-year-old Las Vegan was devastated by the postponement, but has already given USA Boxing a commitment to delay his professional aspirations and work toward the 2021 games.
Gonzales, the country’s top-ranked boxer in the 178-pound weight class, has resumed training in Las Vegas after returning last week from the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
He plans to continue training locally until he can return to the training center and continue working with the Olympic team.
“If I go pro now, ain’t nothing going on in the sport right now. Everything is on lockdown,” said Gonzales, who acknowledged that he briefly considered going pro. “Let me just wait a year. I came too far.”
Gonzales, who was born and raised in Sylmar, California, recalled watching Andre Ward win a gold medal in the 2004 Athens Olympics. He drew inspiration from Ward, the last American boxer to win a gold medal, and began his training that same year — winning his first fight in 30 seconds.
And sparking the passion that still carries him today.
Gonzales emerged as a top American amateur and moved to Las Vegas in 2013 to train with his father, Saalim Raoof, for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. He lost at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials in the semifinals of the 141-pound weight class and was selected as an alternate after the runner-up turned pro.
“It was probably one of the hardest times of my life. I felt like giving up after that,” Gonzales said. “I wasn’t mature. I was thinking about the wrong things. I wanted jewelry. I wanted the flashy lifestyle.”
With emotional and financial support from his parents, Gonzales decided against turning pro and has lived the past four years with his father, sleeping on his couch and training several hours a day.
Raoof said his son is more responsible now, equipped with a refined set of values and an improved work ethic steeled by almost four years of rigorous preparations since his letdown in 2016.
“It’s night and day,” Raoof said. “He’s learning how to control the pace. Knowing how to put his foot on the gas. Knowing how to play the system.”
Gonzales left Las Vegas on March 3 for the U.S. Olympic Training Center, where he helplessly watched the coronavirus spread throughout the world. He didn’t initially believe the International Olympic Committee would postpone the Olympics, but said he agrees with the decision in light of the circumstances. He said he’ll most likely turn professional after the 2021 games, for which he still must officially qualify.
But qualification is practically a formality.
An Olympic gold medal is still the goal.
“I feel like if I would have went pro, I would have gave up and that I would have let the coronavirus get the best of me,” he said. “I’m going to stay positive and keep working toward my lifetime dream.”