Olympic team contender Rucker retires Baltimore middleweight cites 'change of heart'

February 22, 1996|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

Last July, Baltimore middleweight Dana Rucker put himself on the fast track to this summer's Olympic Games by winning the U.S. Olympic Festival gold medal in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Rucker was supposed to return there for last week's U.S. Boxing Championships. Instead, he spent the week in his hometown, celebrating his son Hasan's sixth birthday and contemplating his own future.

A future out of boxing.

Rucker, 24, said yesterday that he has decided to retire from the sport he took up three years ago as a way to improve his skills as a kick-boxer and, perhaps, further his education. He said a number of factors contributed to his decision.

"There were a lot of internal problems," Rucker said by telephone from Marquette, Mich., where he attends Northern Michigan University on a USOC-funded boxing scholarship. "Certain things I can't discuss, but I had a change of heart for the sport."

Rucker said that he began to have misgivings as far back as last summer, shortly after he shocked the amateur boxing world by beating the two top middleweights in successive bouts at the Olympic Festival. He took over the country's top ranking as a result.

Some of those feelings intensified when he lost what Al Mitchell, Rucker's coach at Northern Michigan and this year's Olympic coach, called a "bad decision" in the preliminaries of the Police Athletic League championships in Dallas last November.

"After the Festival, I thought it [the idea of quitting] would go away," said Rucker, who also won the 1994 Golden Gloves. "But something was telling me that I had already reached my goal. I knew it shouldn't have been that way, but it was.

"After that, I felt I had to lead the life of a boxer -- eat like a boxer,

think like a boxer. I didn't want to do that. I had never done that before. I don't know if that [the decision in Dallas] did it. But sometimes I don't think the judges realize what they can do to a person's life."

Rucker, whose ranking had fallen to fourth with that defeat, was still considered a strong contender to make the Olympic team. It certainly didn't hurt that Mitchell, who had a close relationship with Rucker, would be involved in helping shape this year's Olympic team.

When reached at his office yesterday, Mitchell said that Rucker's decision caught him by surprise.

"It came out of nowhere," said Mitchell. "I don't know what he was thinking. It might have been the pressure. Everyone wants so much of you. But I told him that if he made the Olympic team, everything would be there for him."

Mitchell said that Rucker would be able to remain on scholarship through the end of the semester, and might be able to retain it if he stayed in the program in another capacity.

Rucker said that he plans on completing his education either at Northern Michigan, where he's a sophomore, or at another school closer to home.

"Once I get my degree, I'll feel that I've accomplished something," said Rucker. "Boxing has taught me something. It taught me I can be successful in school. I'm the type of fighter that likes to outthink the opponent. Now it's time to use my brain for something else."

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