Boxing is down for the count

STEVE SIMMONS

, Last Updated: 9:12 AM ET

Less than five months before the bell rings an opening to the Beijing Olympics, a welterweight named Adam Trupish stands very much alone.

And until further notice, he is the One Man Gang of Canadian boxing.

He is our national Olympic boxing team. Not a great hope, just our only hope.

The very country that brought you Lennox Lewis and Egerton Marcus and Shawn O'Sullivan and Willie deWit and two decades of fighters and fights worthy of remembering, has qualified exactly one boxer for Beijing.

"Unbelievable," said Yvon Michel, the Canadian Olympic boxing coach at the 1996 Games in Atlanta. "I know it's more difficult to qualify than it was back then, but we had 11 boxers in '96. We had close to that number a lot of other times.

"We had a team of fighters who represented Canada well. We had a reputation internationally. Now, it's like starting all over again."

Canadian fighters have certainly made their mark since the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, winning medals, losing medals, forever leaving an impression. Boxing is just about the most singular of sporting activities but over the years these athletes, from different places and different weights, came together often as one.

Now, it's Trupish all by himself. No one to scream the judge's scores from the stands. No one to shout support from the corner. No one to cheer for on the off days. No one for Canadians to care about - and sometimes fall in love with - after the first fighter is defeated.

Because the first fighter may well be the only fighter.

"It's become like a vicious circle," said Michel, who now works as a prominent fight promoter in Montreal. "You do less preparation overall. You perform less, you get less money from Sport Canada, you have less resources. And then what do you have?

"It used to be our amateurs became great professionals. Now we have success with professionals (three current Canadian world champions, including Toronto's Steve Molitor) but none of the amateurs we used to have.

"Not that long ago, Canada was always in the Top 10 in countries around the world in amateur boxing. At one point, I believe we were as high as fifth. Now, I don't think we're in the Top 40."

So what happened to Canadian boxing? Like too many other Olympic pursuits, the infrastructure at the national team level all but fell apart. The training camps, once a staple for Canadian fighters, disappeared. The money dried up. The long-serving technical director, Matt Mazerski, retired and it took too long to properly replace him.

"If you can believe it, we used to hire pro fighters to spar with our amateurs to get them ready," said Michel. "You can't do that now. We don't have the money and we'd be getting these kids killed."

In 1984, deWit and O'Sullivan both fought for gold in Los Angeles. In 1988, Lewis and Marcus fought for gold. Mark Leduc fought for gold in 1992 in Barcelona and David Defiagbon did the same four years later under dubious circumstances. Since then, nothing.

No medals in Sydney in 2000.

No medals in Athens four years ago.

One shot and one shot only this summer in Beijing.

"There's been a lack of leadership, a lack of direction," said Michel. "People are not going to understand when they turn on their television sets in the summer. They don't follow this. They're going to ask 'Where is our boxing team?'"

Last weekend, eight Canadian fighters attempted to qualify for the Games in a tournament in Trinidad and Tobago. Not one qualified and only one fighter even came close. There is still one more Olympic qualifying event prior to Beijing. Expectations, for the record, are not high.

For now, it is Adam Trupish and only Adam Trupish. "You have to understand, this is a judged sport," said Michel. "The judges have to know you. That works in your favour. Lennox Lewis travelled all over the world before the Olympics. Everyone knew him.

"You have to wonder 'Who knows any Canadians now?' "

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CANADA'S BOXING LEGACY

Year Boxers Medals

2004 5 0

2000 7 0

1996 11 1

1992 10 2

1988 10 3

1984 10 3


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