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Jajaira Gonzalez and Jahmal Harvey aim to revive U.S. reputation in Olympic boxing

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Jajaira Gonzalez and Jahmal Harvey aim to revive U.S. reputation in Olympic boxing

There was a time when the U.S. dominated Olympic boxing. In the three Summer Games the Americans took part in between 1976 and 1988, U.S. fighters made the podium in 26 of 35 divisions, winning 17 gold medals.

Among the boxers who won Olympic titles, then went on to win world championships as professionals, were Sugar Ray Leonard, Michael and Leon Spinks and Pernell Whitaker.

But lately? Not so much. The U.S. has won only 10 medals since 2004 — or one fewer than it won in 1984 alone. And Claressa Shields, a two-time women’s middleweight champion, is the only American to strike gold in that span.

That could change this summer. Although none of the eight boxers the U.S. is sending to Paris have fought in the Olympics, at least half are solid medal contenders. Their success will rest in large part on the draw to determine the bracket for each weight class, which is held the night before the first bout.

For women’s lightweight Jajaira Gonzalez and men’s featherweight Jahmal Harvey, it’s unlikely their paths through the brackets will be more challenging than the ones they took to get to Paris in the first place.

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For Gonzalez, a three-time world junior champion as a teenager, the Olympics offer an opportunity for redemption after a three-year career pause.

“I was blessed with a second chance that not a lot of people get,” the Glendora native said. “I feel like this was destined for me, like I was supposed to be here.”

Gonzalez was supposed to make her Olympic debut eight years ago in Rio. But she was upset by Mikaela Mayer in the U.S. trials, losing a split decision in the deciding bout and failing to make the team. That started a downward spiral in which Gonzalez began to skip training and saw her mental health deteriorate while she gained 35 pounds.

She hit rock bottom in the 2018 national championship where she lost her first fight. She wouldn’t box again for more than three years.

“It was a lot of mental stuff. I just needed a break,” Gonzalez said. “I used to be the type of person that used to think that mental stuff was, like, weak. Until it happened to me.”

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Gonzalez dealt with anxiety attacks, so she started seeing a therapist and keeping a journal. Slowly she began to emerge from what she calls “a very dark time in my life.”

“I’ve grown so much mentally,” she said. “I feel like I’ve been through the worst already. Any little setback that I have now, it’s like I’ve learned from that and it’s easier for me to push it to the side and keep moving forward.

“Instead of staying in that dark hole where I’m just feeling sorry for myself, now I’m like ‘OK, this bad thing happened but how can I make it positive?’ Control what you can control, F what you can’t.”

Jajaira Gonzalez trains with her father, Jose “Chuy” Gonzalez, at the CAPE Fitness gym in La Verne.

(Jill Connelly / For The Times)

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That mindset helped push Gonzalez, 27, to a bronze medal at 60 kilograms (132 pounds) at last fall’s Pan American Games. She had started her comeback at 63.5 kilograms (140 pounds) but returned to her old weight after finishing ninth at the 2022 world championships as a super lightweight.

Gonzalez’s father, Jose, was a fighter in his native Mexico, although he didn’t push his children into the sport. But when his two eldest sons fell in love with boxing and asked their father to train them, he chose to make it a family affair, inviting Jajaira to tag along on the trips to the gym.

Now Gonzalez’s family will be following her to Paris, where she hopes to become the first American to medal in the women’s lightweight division. Just stepping into the ring, however, will qualify as a victory given what she has been through.

“I never thought I wouldn’t be boxing again. Boxing’s all I’ve known since I was 8 years old,” she said. “This is my life. This is what I love to do.

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“Now that I think about it, now that I look back, I do feel like maybe I was too young. Now that I’m older, I’m more mature. Everything I went through, I feel like it kind of prepared me and I feel like this is my moment now.”

Harvey, who will compete at 57 kilograms (127 pounds) in Paris, was pushed into boxing by Daryl Davis, a former football coach who thought Harvey was too small for the gridiron but knew he was pretty good at fighting.

“He knew that I got into a lot of fights growing up,” Harvey said. “He and my parents grew up together in the same neighborhood, went to the same high school. So when I would get in trouble in school for fighting, he [knew].

“Once he started getting to coach in boxing, he wanted to transfer me over.”

Jahmal Harvey celebrates after defeating Cuba's Saidel Horta in the men's 57-kilogram final at the Pan American Games.

Jahmal Harvey celebrates after defeating Cuba’s Saidel Horta in the men’s 57-kilogram final at the Pan American Games in October.

(Martin Mejia / Associated Press)

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That proved to be a pretty good decision since Harvey, who grew up just outside Washington, won his first national Junior Olympics title at 13. Five years later he became the first American male to win a title at the elite world championships since 2007, beating defending world champion Mirazizbek Mirzakhalilov of Uzbekistan in the second round before dispatching Olympians Samuel Kistohurry of France and Serik Temirzhanov of Kazakhstan.

He followed that with a gold medal in the Pan American Games last fall and now Harvey, 21, is considered by many to be the best amateur boxer in the U.S. He’s certainly the best hope to win a medal, although Olympic teammates Joshua Edwards (super heavyweight) and Roscoe Hill (flyweight) have both medaled in international competition and are good bets to make the podium in Paris.

One of the first things Davis taught Harvey when they began working together was that he was safer being punched in the ring than he was being hit on the football field. It wasn’t a lesson the youngster immediately appreciated.

“I didn’t think nothing of boxing. I was always football,” Harvey said.

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But he weighed about 85 pounds when he entered high school, which caused him to reconsider.

“I just weighed my options,” he said. “I was like yeah, I really love football. But I’m a realistic person and I know that I can make it way further in boxing than I could in football.

“I just knew boxing would be my sport.”

Yet for all his success, Harvey said his path to Paris was paved with a three-bout losing streak that started six months after his world championship win.

“It was important for me to lose so that I could work on the aspects of my game that I lacked,” said Harvey, who is 59-7 in his career. “And it wasn’t really anything inside the ring. It was everything outside the ring. Being away from family, mentally that was draining. Training all the time.

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“I got a better diet, and then I started recovering better so my body could perform.”

As Harvey grew, he began to cut weight for the first time. So he experimented with a vegetarian diet. but that left him with low energy. Eventually he added fish and found a combination that worked.

“I had to learn what foods to eat and how to get the right nutrition,” he said.

Jahmal Harvey, left, throws a punch during a match against Brazil's Luiz Do Nascimento at the Pan American Games in October.

Jahmal Harvey, left, throws a punch during a match against Brazil’s Luiz Do Nascimento at the Pan American Games in October.

(Dolores Ochoa / Associated Press)

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He also sought more balance between his life inside and outside the ring.

“It’s very important to not let [boxing] run your life,” he said. “I just let it be fun, let it come to me naturally. I put in a lot of work in the gym, so I know that OK, I can still go out, watch a movie, hang with friends.

“The gold medal, definitely that’s what I’m working to achieve. But I’m not stressing about the gold medal. I know it’s going to come to me if I put the work in. I’m just so proud of myself for even making it there.”

And if he becomes the second American male to win a boxing gold this century after Andre Ward earned one in 2004, would he follow Ward into the pro ring and cash in on all that work?

“If I win the gold medal, I might want to come back and become a two-time gold medalist,” he said.

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That would be an even bigger achievement. The Americans haven’t had a man do that since 1904.

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Two Canada Olympic staff members sent home after spying attempt on New Zealand soccer practice

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Two Canada Olympic staff members sent home after spying attempt on New Zealand soccer practice

NICE, France — The Olympic women’s soccer tournament is starting with some unexpected drama: a complaint from New Zealand’s Olympic Committee about an attempt at spying during a training session just before the Paris Games.

A drone was flown over a Ferns training session in Saint-Étienne, France, on Monday, New Zealand’s Olympic Committee (NZOC) said in a statement. Ferns staffers reported the drone to police, who detained the operator, a staff member for the Canadian team.

On Wednesday, the Canadian Olympic Committee said that a separate drone incident at New Zealand training on July 19 had come to light. As a result, Canada head coach Bev Priestman said she would remove herself from overseeing Thursday’s game against New Zealand. The COC added that Joseph Lombardi, an “unaccredited analyst,” and Jasmine Mander, a coach who oversees Lombardi, had been removed from the team and sent home. The committee said Canada Soccer staff would also undergo “mandatory ethics training.”

The COC’s initial statement Wednesday morning confirmed that Lombardi used a drone “to record the New Zealand women’s football team during practice.” The COC apologized to New Zealand’s players, federation and the International Olympic Committee, saying it was “shocked and disappointed.”

FIFA later confirmed on Wednesday its disciplinary committee had opened proceedings against Canada Soccer, Priestman, Mander and Lombardi. The incident represented a potential breach of FIFA and Olympic football’s fair play regulations.

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Priestman will not be on the sidelines for Canada’s game against New Zealand (Logan Riely/Getty Images)

“On behalf of our entire team, I first and foremost want to apologize to the players and staff at New Zealand Football and to the players on Team Canada,” Priestman later said. “This does not represent the values that our team stands for.

“I am ultimately responsible for conduct in our program. Accordingly, to emphasize our team’s commitment to integrity, I have decided to voluntarily withdraw from coaching the match on Thursday. In the spirit of accountability, I do this with the interests of both teams in mind and to ensure everyone feels that the sportsmanship of this game is upheld.”

A FIFA statement read: “The FIFA Disciplinary Committee has opened proceedings against Canada Soccer, Ms Beverly Priestman, Mr Joseph Lombardi and Ms Jasmine Mander due to the potential breach of article 13 of the FIFA Disciplinary Code and article 6.1 of the Regulations Olympic Football Tournaments Games of the XXXIII Olympiad Paris 2024 — final competition, following incidents involving a non-accredited member of the Canadian delegation at the Women’s Olympic Football Tournament, who is believed to have used a drone to record the New Zealand women’s football team.

“The matter will be submitted for the consideration of the Disciplinary Committee in the next days.”

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New Zealand Football CEO Andrew Pragnell issued a statement Thursday morning in New Zealand calling for “urgent action” to be taken to “address this integrity breach.”

“To hear now that the Canadian team had filmed secret footage of our team training at least twice is incredibly concerning and if not treated urgently could have wider implications for the integrity of the tournament,” Pragnell’s statement said.

“We note that there have been some admissions by the Canadian National Olympic Committee, and they have taken their own sanctions against the Canadian team, however, considering the seriousness of the situation, and the potential implications to the sporting integrity of the entire tournament, we have referred the matter to the FIFA Disciplinary Committee seeking urgent action,” the statement continued.

Drones have been a story across the Paris Games, with French prime minister Gabriel Attal saying Tuesday that an average of six drones per day have been intercepted at Olympic sites, mostly from tourists trying to capture footage of the spectacle.

The women’s soccer tournament begins play Thursday. Canada and New Zealand open action in Group A at 5 p.m. local/11 a.m. ET in Saint-Étienne, in a group with France and Colombia. Canada is currently ranked eighth in the world, according to FIFA, while New Zealand is ranked 28th.

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(Photo: Jean-Pierre Clatot / AFP via Getty)

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Chargers head coach Jim Harbaugh uses odd birthing analogy to talk about first day of training camp

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Chargers head coach Jim Harbaugh uses odd birthing analogy to talk about first day of training camp

The Jim Harbaugh Era has gotten off to an odd start in Los Angeles, as the new Chargers head coach had a weird way of categorizing the first day of training camp. 

Harbaugh, who returns to coach in the NFL after leading Michigan to a national title, spoke with reporters after the first full day of training camp on Wednesday, and he said it felt like “New Year’s Day.”

However, what he followed up with made things a bit awkward.

Jim Harbaugh of the Los Angeles Chargers at the podium before an NFL football practice at Hoag Performance Center on June 13, 2024 in Costa Mesa, California. (Ric Tapia/Getty Images)

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“It feels like being born. It feels like coming out of the womb, you know. It’s like you’re in there and it’s comfortable, it’s safe, and now ‘poof,’ you’re born,” Harbaugh said, via the New York Post. “The lights are on, It’s bright. You got chaos, people looking at you, people talking at you. It just feels good to have it happen.”

Certainly, an odd way to talk about returning to the pros, but Harbaugh’s eccentric characterization of his new Chargers post brings about all the optimism and joy that comes with the new addition to a family. 

Chargers fans rejoiced when Harbaugh signed a five-year contract with the Chargers, and Los Angeles made it worth his while to leave the Wolverines’ program with $16 million per season. 

Harbaugh was linked to the Chargers since Brandon Staley was fired after an absolute beatdown by the Las Vegas Raiders, 63-21, in December. After what he was able to do over nine seasons at Michigan — three Big Ten titles and his national championship last season — fans see this veteran addition at head coach as the perfect fit with a roster that’s still very talented. 

Jim Harbaugh points on field

Los Angeles Chargers head coach Jim Harbaugh instructs on the field during the first day of training camp at The Bolt. (Kiyoshi Mio-USA TODAY Sports)

Quarterback Justin Herbert is locked in as the team’s franchise signal caller, and someone that Harbaugh can be creative with given his own quarterback background. But, while he’s building chemistry with his new head coach at camp, Herbert didn’t necessarily think about his first day in the way Harbaugh did. 

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“I’ll leave the analogies to him,” Herbert said, per ESPN. “He’s done a great job at creating those, so I’ll support whatever he says. We’re just out there playing football, and my job is to throw the ball, so that’s what I’m going to worry about.”

Herbert’s job is to throw, but things in Los Angeles may look pretty different with Greg Roman joining Harbaugh as offensive coordinator. Harbaugh’s teams at Michigan have been known to be run-heavy, and Roman reunites with Gus Edwards and J.K. Dobbins, two running backs he worked with in Baltimore during his time with the Ravens. 

Jim Harbaugh speaks to media

Jim Harbaugh of the Los Angeles Chargers at the podium before an NFL football practice at Hoag Performance Center on June 13, 2024 in Costa Mesa, California. (Ric Tapia/Getty Images)

But no matter if they are running or throwing the ball, the Chargers will take wins either way. That’s the only thing Harbaugh and his squad care about. 

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Dodgers activate Tyler Glasnow, sign veteran shortstop Nick Ahmed

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Dodgers activate Tyler Glasnow, sign veteran shortstop Nick Ahmed

The Dodgers have yet to make any trades ahead of next Tuesday’s deadline.

But their roster got another notable shake-up Wednesday.

Before their game against the San Francisco Giants, the Dodgers activated pitcher Tyler Glasnow from the injured list, and signed and activated veteran shortstop Nick Ahmed.

In corresponding moves, shortstop Miguel Rojas was placed on the injured list with a flexor strain in his throwing arm. Pitcher Landon Knack was optioned, sent back to triple-A Oklahoma City despite his 3.07 ERA in nine outings this year. Reliever Ricky Vanasco was also designated for assignment to create room on the club’s 40-man roster for Ahmed.

Glasnow’s return was long expected, with the team’s right-handed ace returning as scheduled from back tightness he sustained before the All-Star break.

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Rojas’ placement on the injured list was also no surprise, after he was removed early from Sunday’s game with discomfort in his forearm.

While the team was initially optimistic that Rojas could avoid an IL stint, manager Dave Roberts said a medical scan this week showed the strain in Rojas’ arm. His timeline to return is unclear, but Roberts didn’t make the injury sound serious.

“I think it’s something that he’ll be able to bounce back from,” Roberts said.

In Rojas’ absence, the Dodgers signed Ahmed to a major-league deal Wednesday, inking the 11-year veteran and two-time Gold Glover two weeks after he was released by the Giants.

Roberts said Ahmed, a longtime member of the Arizona Diamondbacks who batted .232 in 52 games with the Giants this year, would serve as the Dodgers’ primary shortstop in Rojas’ absence — or, at least, until Mookie Betts returns in the next couple of weeks from his broken hand.

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“Got a call late last night, and came to terms pretty quickly,” Ahmed said of signing with the Dodgers. “Pretty obvious choice, just playing against these guys for a long time. Having the opportunity to compete and win a championship is something I want.”

The odd man out in Wednesday’s flurry of moves was Knack, the rookie right-hander who seemed to be establishing himself in the Dodgers rotation after a five-inning, one-run start Tuesday night.

Knack, however, became the casualty of a roster crunch. He had minor-league options. He was also the most recent member of the Dodgers rotation to pitch — which, with a couple off-days on the schedule in the next week, left his next potential start date unclear.

Instead, the Dodgers decided to send Knack down and preserve their bullpen depth, something that could be important the next two nights as Glasnow and Clayton Kershaw make their first starts back from the injured list.

“It was one of those timing situations for Landon,” Roberts said. “But I can’t say enough about what he did for our ball club.”

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Buehler’s next steps

Walker Buehler said he will begin a rehab assignment with triple-A Oklahoma City on Friday. It will be his first live game action since going on the injured list last month with a hip injury.

Buehler is expected to make two rehab starts, Roberts said, before rejoining the Dodgers rotation next month.

Before going on the IL, Buehler had struggled in his return from a second Tommy John surgery, going 1-4 with a 5.84 ERA in eight starts.

Hurt having Tommy John

In other injury news Wednesday, the team announced that prospect Kyle Hurt is scheduled to undergo Tommy John surgery next week, ending his 2024 campaign and probably sidelining him for most of 2025 as well.

A USC product acquired in a 2021 trade with the Miami Marlins, Hurt had emerged as one of the top pitchers in the Dodgers’ farm system, earning the club’s minor league pitcher of the year award last year while leading all minor-league pitchers with 14.9 strikeouts per nine innings.

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Hurt made his MLB debut with one outing last September, then opened this season in the Dodgers’ bullpen, giving up two runs (one earned) in 6 2/3 innings over three appearances.

He missed a couple of months earlier this year with a shoulder injury, but had been back pitching for Oklahoma City for a month before exiting an outing on July 4 with an apparent arm injury.

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