Errol Spence's hand is raised in victory after defeating Brazil's… (Patrick Semansky / Associated…)
LONDON — What a difference four years, a new coaching staff, a new executive director and eight new boxers can make.
In the 2008 Beijing Games, the U.S. Olympic boxing team turned in the worst performance in its history, winning only a single bronze medal while seeing seven of its nine fighters eliminated before the quarterfinals.
But two days into the competition at this summer's London Games, the U.S. is unbeaten in four bouts after wins Sunday from lightweight Jose Ramirez and welterweight Errol Spence. And the team's top medal hopefuls — flyweight Rau'shee Warren and heavyweight Michael Hunter — haven't even entered the ring.
"The biggest thing is this team believes," assistant coach Charles Leverette said. "They came together as one. That's why we call it a team.
"We're on a high. I hope we don't come down."
Ramirez, 19, a former Starbucks barista from Avenal, Calif., did his part to keep the momentum going, outpointing Rachid Azzedine, a 29-year-old taxi driver from France, in his Olympic debut. Then two bouts later, the 22-year-old Spence, a three-time national champion from DeSoto, Texas, pounded his way to a 16-10 victory over Myke Ribeiro de Carvalho of Brazil.
Spence gave credit for his win to a group of teammates who sat in a far corner of the arena, loudly cheering him on.
"It helps a lot when you're a little bit tired. It gets you going," he said.
"These kids," Leverette added, "they care about each other."
And that unity, which includes team runs every morning, stands in stark contrast to the disunity the U.S. team displayed four years ago. It's new in another way too, since the group didn't come together until May, when six of the nine fighters qualified for the Games.
Even the coaching staff wasn't in place until late last month when Basheer Abdullah, the national team coach in Athens in 2004, was officially put back in charge. But the appointment came so late, Abdullah decided not to work the corner for his fighters here, leaving it to Leverette and two assistants to implement his game plan.
Game plans, by the way, are another thing the U.S. appeared to be lacking in Beijing, where many fighters looked tentative and confused in the ring. In London, the four American boxers who've fought thus far have been confident and aggressive.
"We're all on the same page, we're all focused and we've all got the same goal," Spence said.
Spence was never in trouble against De Carvalho, wearing the three-time Olympian out, even forcing the Brazilian to take a knee late in the second round to catch his breath. And although Ramirez's fight was closer on the scorecards — the American lost the third round after winning each of the first two by a point each — the outcome never seemed to be in doubt.
Spence moves on to meet third-seeded Krishan Vikas of India, who got a bye into the round of 16. Ramirez's next opponent will be Fazliddin Gaibnazarov of Uzbekistan, who advanced with an 11-6 win Sunday over Yhyacinthe Mewoli Abdon of Cameroon.
The only U.S. fighter in action Monday is light-heavyweight Marcus Browne. And Spence figures to be among those in the arena cheering.
"We've just got to keep pushing and keep the momentum going," Spence said.