“Sugar” Ray Leonard still remembers the credentials, the awe and the “majestic gates” of the 1976 Olympic athletes’ village in Montreal.
“It was intimidating,” the decorated 1980s professional boxing champion says now.
Leonard takes his credentials, including a 1976 Olympic gold medal, to an analyst role for the debut of Premier Boxing Champions. NBC brings boxing back to primetime with Keith Thurman facing Robert Guerrero and Adrien Broner dueling John Molina Jr. in Las Vegas (Saturday, 8:30 p.m. ET).
Leonard, now 58, began his Olympic journey at 16, when he lied about his age to enter qualifying for the 1972 Olympics. He couldn’t make the U.S. team, eliminated in a controversial decision.
“I really believed in myself, I worked hard, but I was totally inexperienced,” said Leonard, who was also said to have picked up his nickname in his failed bid for the 1972 Games.
Leonard returned in 1976, after having won Pan American Games, AAU and Golden Gloves titles, and had no problem making it to Montreal. He dominated as part of a Hall of Fame 1976 U.S. Olympic boxing team that bagged five golds on the same day, including two from brothers Leon and Michael Spinks.
Leonard competed with a picture of his 2-year-old son taped to one of his shoes and with mixed emotions in Montreal. He intended to never fight again after the Olympics, to go to the University of Maryland rather than turn professional.
“When I got my gold medal, all I wanted to do was go home,” said Leonard, who remembered having a Maryland state flag somehow delivered to him and hung above his bed in the Montreal athletes’ village. Leonard did not stick around for the Closing Ceremony.
Leonard was persuaded after the Games to take on a lucrative pro boxing career and went on to become perhaps the greatest fighter of the 1980s.
Leonard says now that so many people who visit his home want to see the gold medal, so he placed it in his trophy case among his championship belts.
He also kept other souvenirs from Montreal, a Timex watch, a Team USA cap and a shirt that he wore in the ring. He found them all in an attic years later. Now they’re encased on a wall.
Leonard says he hasn’t attended an Olympics since 1976, even though he had been asked to advise boxers for different editions of the Games.
“But it never really came to fruition,” Leonard said.