On the Eve of the Olympics, How Things Have Changed for Luis Yanez

Brian Harkin

Luis Yanez, back on the U.S. Olympic boxing team

When I visited Luis Yanez at his Oak Cliff boxing gym in December for a story on the light flyweight’s bid for Olympic gold, he seemed not far removed from the rough streets he had grown up on. There were no handlers, no hangers-on; it was just Luis and the boys from the neighborhood. For Luis, life was simple and pure, so long as things stayed within the ring. At home, the story had always been another matter. Times have changed.

When I called Luis’ longtime trainer, the affable Dennis Rodarte of Lewisville, this afternoon for a quote on Yanez’s reinstatement to the U.S. Olympic Team, Rodarte didn’t say five words before he passed the phone to someone who identified himself as Michael Montoya of Team Yanez. Montoya said he spoke for both Rodarte and Yanez and offered a brief statement in response to my questions: “The only thing we can comment on and will comment on is Luiz is moving forward, getting prepared to be reunited with his teammates and, winning the gold medal.”

He told me I could ask Luis one question, how he felt to be reinstated, and put me on speaker phone to make sure I didn’t ask him anything else.

“I’m happy they gave me a second chance,” Luis said of USA Boxing. “Every day I was praying and praying and praying and the Man spoke up and this is what He gave me.”

Who knows what really happened between Team USA and Yanez, but from the beginning there were problems. Rodarte told me trainers at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs wanted to tweak with Luis’ style and didn’t like the close relationship the flyweight had with his long-time trainer back home in Oak Cliff. Still, Luis was making the best of it. In fact, he was captain of the team and one of the most likely boxers on the U.S. squad to take home a medal.

Then things fell apart. Luis came home for three weeks -- reportedly to take care of his sister in rehab -- without permission from USA Boxing, missing a team tour of Argentina. On July 1, the team dismissed him, and it seemed Luis’ dream of a gold medal was gone.

Then things got worse: Head Coach Dan Campbell called Yanez a liar, and Yanez’s camp fired back, questioning Campbell’s credentials and training methods, according to The Dallas Morning News. Yanez filed for independent arbitration Monday after the USA Boxing Judicial Committee unanimously rejected his appeal to rejoin the team.

Now he’s back, but at no small cost. He will be required to pay a fine, attend sports counseling and, somehow, mend his relationship with Campbell.

Maybe Team Yanez is part of the plan. Never before has there been much of a buffer between Rodarte, Yanez and the press. He’s been as accessible as any world-class athlete I’ve ever encountered. He and Rodarte were like father and son. And maybe, from Team USA’s perspective, that was part of the problem.

Yanez could never really let go of home or the trouble he left behind him (his relationship with his mother has always haunted him). To win a gold medal, he’ll have to do just that, and somehow overcome the new problems he’s encountered in Colorado Springs. Good news for Yanez: The team leaves for Beijing on Tuesday, just in time for a guy who needs a change of scenery. --Jesse Hyde

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky