Waldo has nothing on Lenny Abbey. He has lived in more places around the world, more than Waldo could ever dream of.
Abbey, a 2001 Princeton High School graduate, is in Tokyo working at the 2020 Olympic Games in dual capacities. It is his seventh Olympic Games, including stops at Beijing, Vancouver, London, Sochi, Rio de Janeiro and Pyeonchang.
In his lifetime, Abbey has lived in 11 countries on five continents. His family lives in Switzerland and his three boys were born, naturally, in Olympic cities — Caio in Rio and Bodhi and Luca in L.A.
Abbey is wearing two hats in this year’s Games in Tokyo. He is overseeing the boxing tournament while keeping tabs on the Russia Olympic Committee in light of the sanctions imposed on it.
“I have what people call two hot potatoes,” Abbey said. “I’m running a sport that’s been suspended and helping deal with a national Olympic committee that’s also had some measures put on them.”
Abbey said the IOC took over the sport of boxing for the Olympics, because the boxing federation was suspended over allegations that date back many decades and came to a head in the 2016 Olympics.
He has been head of the Boxing Task Force since 2019, created by the IOC to run the sport to qualify athletes for the Olympics and then run the tournament at Tokyo.
“I’m overseeing the entire delivery of boxing,” Abbey said. “I’ve been following the project for almost two years now. I was working on the qualification events and the processes to get the athletes here specifically to Tokyo and then now delivering everything that’s related to the sport of boxing.”
Restrictions have been placed on the Russian delegation since the 2018 Pyeonchang games and Abbey’s other task in Tokyo is to ensure they are being followed.
“There’s a number of restrictions of the sports teams not being able to associate themselves with the Russian Federation, whether it’s the uses of a flag, anthem, etc., he said. “I’m also working with the Russians on the implementation of that decision specifically towards Tokyo. So what uniform should their uniforms look like? What anthem will be used for medal ceremonies? The flag use for all protocol related matters? What can the Russian press do? What can the athletes do and not do in social media, speaking in interviews?
“I’m trying to help monitor, but also ensure the implementation and the spirit of the decision is followed and respected and we don’t have any misunderstandings or issues at the end of the day. And that could lead to further sanctions with the Russians.”
The jobs can be stressful, but that’s the way Abbey likes it.
“I do enjoy the challenge. There are moments that you’re questioning, ‘Why are you doing this,’ because it’s a lot of work,” he said. “The sport of boxing can be a difficult sport and a tough culture in itself and the culture difference with the Russians between us and them can be quite challenging. But I’ve learned to appreciate them and have spent many years dealing with not just the Russians, but the Soviet block of countries.
“I do enjoy it. I really do think I am fortunate to be in this position. Really wouldn’t trade it for anything else at this point.”
Abbey said his background of living in many countries growing up has prepared him to work with in the international community.
His father, Mac, worked for an international organization that did a lot of development-type work in third-world countries.
Abbey, 38, was born in Sudan, Africa, and his family moved every three to five years to some of the most impoverished countries in the world, including Mali in West Africa, Ecuador, Bolivia and Bangledesh.
“He always had to go to places where there was a lot of need and always third-world countries. We never ended up in any nice places, I would say, but at the same time, for me, it was some of the greatest memories, and I’ve been back to many of those countries,” Abbey said.
“I went to International schools and would have classes with 50 students and kids from 30 different countries. So it really gave me a broader perspective on life and always allowed me to adopt easily to different cultures. I think through soccer and other sports, I was always able to specifically quickly meet people, but become friends with everyone.
“In this role, I do think all my lessons from throughout childhood has come in handy, as I can relate to the different groups.”
The Abbeys moved to Princeton to be near where his mother grew up for his junior year in high school to better prepare him for college. His mother is the former Linda Kunkel, or as Abbey jokes, “One of the millions of Kunkels from the Tiskilwa area.”
The Tiger co-captain earned a soccer scholarship from St. Ambrose University and transferred to the University of Illinois and finished school there.
He was selected as a visiting scholar for the economics department in Rio de Janeiro to do research for a couple professors. During that time, he was exposed to the international sports world. Six months after he graduated, he took a job with the Pan American Games in 2007 and moved to Rio de Janeiro for two years.
He then work for the boxing championship in Chicago in 2007, which was being used as a showcase for Chicago’s unsuccessful bid for the 2016 Olympics.
He got a call to go to Beijing to start his Olympic journey in 2008. Six Games later, he finds himself in Tokyo.
Kevin Hieronymus is the BCR Sports Editor. Contact him at email@example.com.