Dumbo's Contribution to the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games

2008 U.S. Boxing Team (Photo courtesy of usaboxing.org)

What does Dumbo and Beijing have in common? Apparently the two have boxing ties to the Beijing Olympics, according to a trainer who worked out at Gleason’s Gym. Corpas is the author of a book on boxing called New York City’s Greatest Boxers. He trained at the gym (owned by Bruce Silverglade) when the very first Chinese boxers trained at Dumbo’s Gleason’s Gym in 1989 for the 1990 Asian Games to make an impression on the International Olympic Committee who had an eye on China as a possible choice for hosting the Games.

There’s exactly one week to go for the 2008 Olympic Games. The United States Olympic Boxing held their final training sessions on Friday, July 11 at the legendary Gleason’s Gym in Dumbo Brooklyn. The nine member squad are in Beijing to compete against the world’s best boxers, including the Chinese boxing team. In his own words, titled Beijing’s Debt to Dumbo , Jose Corpas tells us the story of the precursor to the 2008 Chinese team:

This summer’s Olympic Games might have been taking place somewhere other than China if not for a boxing gym in Brooklyn. Back in 1989, the Chinese government was preparing to make a bid to host an Olympics. But first they wanted to make a strong impression at the 1990 Asian Games, which they were hosting. Although strong in many sports, China had no boxing team. In fact, they had no boxers. So they sent four athletes with no boxing experience to Gleason’s Gym in Brooklyn for the purpose of becoming boxers.

The arrival of the four athletes was met with great fanfare with much of the attention centering on the heavily tattooed heavyweight Wang Wei Xiong, who sported a tattoo of a woman and eagle. Air China paid their fare and Lena Hsu, through her company Le and Le Associates, sponsored what was to be a 15 month stay.

“None of the boxers spoke English and none of the trainers spoke Chinese” recalled Lena Hsu. “They had their own language” she said. Their trainer, Al Gavin, would physically demonstrate each move and then the four boxers would follow. “Al would tell them ‘Head like a snake-feet like a duck’” she laughed. “It was so funny to watch!”

After a few months, they were ready for competition. Three of the four won their first bouts including Wang Wei Xiong. Peter Depasquale served as their conditioning coach and recalls how quickly they learned. “They were already in shape. They ran in several New York Road Runners meets. But in the gym, they were a trainer’s dream.” And just like a dream, they were gone.

Little was heard of them after they returned to China. They continued to train in China and shared what they learned in Brooklyn with the rest of the Chinese boxing team. At the 1990 Asian Games, Wang Wei Xiong won a silver medal. His teammate, Bai Chong Guang, won a gold medal and went on to compete at the 1992 Olympics. As a whole, China did well at the 1990 Asian Games. They won more medals than any other country and showed the world that they could successfully host an international sporting event. They entered a bid with the International Olympic Committee and eventually were awarded the 2008 Games.

China promises that this year’s Olympics are a must see. While watching, remember the four athletes turned boxers. The ones who moved their heads like a snake and their feet like a duck. And keep in mind that it all might have been taking place somewhere else if not for a musky old gym in Brooklyn. The one nestled neatly between the shadows of the Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges.

Thank you Jose for the story. Cheer for the 2008 US Olympic boxing team when they start next week. Check out Jose’s book, New York City’s Greatest Boxers. Please contact dumbonyc@gmail.com for his contact information.

{Official Website of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games}
{Gleason’s Gym}
{Chinese Boxers in the U.S., 10Jul1989, NY Times}