Bomber's former gymmates say he was reclusive
Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, and his brother are the prime suspects in Monday’s Boston Marathon bombings that have killed three and wounded more than 180 others. (JOHANNES HIRN)
Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the alleged Boston Marathon bomber who was killed Thursday night, was once an amateur boxer who represented the New England regional team as a 201-pound heavyweight in the National Golden Gloves.
CSNBayArea.com spoke to two of his teammates who participated with Tsarnaev during that tournament, as well as a third boxer who interacted with Tsarnaev when he trained at the Boston Boxing & Fitness gym in Brighton, Mass.
“Honestly, to tell you the truth, I’m still shocked by it,” said Russell Lamour Jr., who traveled with Tsarnaev to Salt Lake City for the Golden Gloves in 2009. “I haven’t seen him in years, but I just didn’t think that he would do that. You don’t know what people—what they’ll do or what they’re capable of [doing].”
In order to prepare for the National Golden Gloves, Tsarnaev reportedly took a leave of absence from his engineering studies at Boston’s Bunker Hill Community College. According to all accounts, Tsarnaev, who came to the U.S. in 2003 from his native Chechnya, was a pressure fighter who relied on brute strength to overpower his opponents given his lack of experience.
“He was more will than skill,” said Toka Kahn Clary, another of his 2009 teammates. “He would wing that big right hand all day on people and he would keep catching them. It was kind of a surprise when he won the New England Golden Gloves to make it on the team to go to Nationals.”
However, outside the ring, Tsarnaev displayed a more reserved demeanor not quite befitting his brawling style.
“He was quiet. He didn’t say much,” Kahn Clary said. “We would go out after the fights in Salt Lake City, I believe it was. We went out to the mall and stuff, and he wouldn’t come. He’d just stay in his room.”
Kahn Clary, who would go on to win a silver medal as a featherweight that week, recalled what little he could about the man who remains a relative enigma with the public.
“I didn’t think he would go out like that,” he added. “I remember he was still working on his English, and he had a heavy accent…He never really talked about how he felt [about America] or anything like that.”
Tsarnaev made an early exit from the Golden Gloves, dropping a decision to Chicago’s Lamar Fenner in the first day of action at the tournament. Lamour, who also lost his opening bout that year as a middleweight, shared his personal interactions with his former teammate.
“We never had a problem,” Lamour said. “He was kind of cocky a little bit, but nothing bad. He kind of kept to himself a lot, but I never saw anything that made me think, ‘He’s bad,’ or anything.
“He was actually polite with the coaches from what I saw, even after he lost and they told him what he needed to work on. He thought he won the fight and was a little aggravated at first, but he eventually accepted it.”
Upon the tournament’s conclusion, Lamour stated he did not keep in touch with Tsarnaev. He was then asked if any of the other members of the team had built a lasting friendship with the heavyweight.
“No,” Lamour said. “We were all friendly and respectful toward each other, but when Golden Gloves was over, we all went our separate ways, and like I said, he kept to himself for the most part.”
The assessment mirrors Tsarnaev’s comments in a photo essay taken by Johannes Hirn before the tournament, when the Chechnyan revealed, “I don't have a single American friend. I don't understand them.”
Kahn Clary and Lamour’s respective recollections are news to Tommy Duquette, who trained alongside Tsarnaev before the New England regional Golden Gloves tournament in early 2009. Duquette told a much different story.
“He was a weirdo,” said Duquette. “He got kicked out of my gym by the trainers after only a week because he was a maniac.”
Duquette clarified his characterization of Tsarnaev’s conduct during his brief stint at the Boston Boxing & Fitness Gym.
“[It’s] not like a maniac where you’re like, all right, ‘He’s going to blow up the [Boston] Marathon,’ but a maniac where he’s like a pain in the ass out in the gym,” Duquette said. “It’s crazy. He was asking everybody to spar, not wearing headgear, [and] not listening to instructions.”
Duquette, who won the U.S. National Championships silver medal as a light welterweight in 2011, remembered one particular instance in general.
“He wouldn’t talk to anybody except when he wanted to spar with you,” Duquette said. “I was around 132 pounds at the time and he came up to me once and asked me to spar with him, and he was 201 [pounds].
“I had respect for him though. He could fight. He had that awkward pressure, kind of like a [Ricardo] Mayorga. He just kind of made that work for him.”
The particulars behind what transpired between 2009 and today are still unclear to Duquette, whose hometown of Waltham, Mass., is adjacent to Watertown, where FBI agents, snipers, and SWAT teams have now inundated the city.
“I know he did some other sports, and a little bit of MMA, but I don’t really know much about what happened to him between then and now,” said Duquette. “It’s just crazy to see this, especially because you know the guy and it’s in your neighborhood.”
The 26-year-old Tsarnaev and his brother, 19-year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, have been the subject of a manhunt after authorities identified them as the prime suspects in Monday’s Boston Marathon bombings that have killed three and wounded more than 180 others.
[REWIND: Explosions rock Boston Marathon]
Tamerlan, who was seen in surveillance footage in a black baseball cap, was killed Thursday night in a shootout with law enforcement, according to the Associated Press. Authorities are still in pursuit of Dzhokhar, who was seen wearing a white, backward baseball cap in images obtained from the marathon.