Mon, September 23, 2013

Women's boxing in, bats and balls out

By ROB LONGLEY, QMI Agency


Mary Spencer was awarded the lone wild-card spot in women's boxing for Canada. (Marc Girard/QMI Agency/Files)

It seemed as though the introduction of women's boxing to the Olympic menu was made specifically to answer Mary Spencer's sporting dreams.

A three-time world champion and five-time gold medallist at the Pan Am Games, the debut of her sport in London was to be the fulfilment of what seemed like a lifetime of competition for the 27-year-old from Windsor, Ont. But knockouts can come swiftly in her sport and when Spencer lost her opening-round match at the world championship in May, suddenly those Olympic dreams had crashed to the canvas.

Although she needed some help to get back to her feet and had to suffer through a month waiting in limbo, Spencer was given a puncher's chance when she was awarded the lone wild-card spot into her event and a shot at a redemption.

Flashing the attitude that took her to the top of the world in the 75-kg class, Spencer has vowed to make the best of her second opportunity.

"The only thing better than winning the Olympic gold would be winning gold after qualifying via a wild card," Spencer said after learning of her fate. "I have been training and planning for this outcome, and I'm relieved that I will competing this summer in London.

"I feel even stronger and more focused right now. The route to London was not as expected, but I feel I've learned a lot and I will take those lessons with me on the final leg of the journey."

That Spencer and other women boxers are even being afforded the chance has been a long time coming. Although the sport first appeared as a demonstration event at the 1902 Games, the fact women's boxing was banned in many countries for decades to come made it a non-factor for becoming a sanctioned event.

Since the late 1980s, however, more countries have developed boxers and the IOC decided to introduce full medal events in three categories for the London Games -- flyweight, lightweight and middleweight -- the class Spencer will vie for gold in.

Perhaps the bigger story, at least from the perspective of a wider Canadian audience, concerns the sports that won't be in London, specifically those involving a bat and a ball.

Both baseball and softball were dropped from the menu, ostensibly because the IOC felt there wasn't enough high-end participation around the globe. The decision was made in 2005, making the Beijing Games a lame-duck swan song for the sports.

In women's softball, for example, the U.S. won gold in each of the three Summer Games the event was competed. Men's baseball, meanwhile, was doomed when Major League Baseball refused to make its players available as the NBA has done in basketball and the NHL with hockey.

As for other changes, a somewhat radical move by the International Canoe Federation has forced multiple medal-winning Canadian paddler Adam van Koeverden to alter his training regimen. All 500-metre events in canoe and kayak have been scrapped and replaced by races over 200 metres. Van Koeverden, a world champion in the single-men's kayak at the old distance will now compete only in the 1,000 metres.

And one final change: Tennis, which will be contested on the famed lawns of Wimbledon, has added mixed doubles to its medal menu.

rob.longley@sunmedia.ca

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