Fri, September 20, 2013

Hometown coach brings Olympic boxer Mary Spencer confidence, comfort

By STEVE BUFFERY, QMI Agency


Mary Spencer works out with her coach, Charlie Stewart, at Rooney's Gym during the 2012 Olympic Summer Games in London. Stewart's so important to Spencer's confidence, he's been flown to England by Canada's Olympic officials. (Dave Abel/QMI Agency)

LONDON - Mary Spencer is extremely confident going into her first fight at the Olympic Games, partly because she’s physically and mentally prepared, and partly because her coach from the Windsor Boxing Club, Charlie Stewart, is here.

Stewart is not the official team coach at the London Games. The official team coach is Sylvan Gagnon. But Stewart means so much to the boxing team’s biggest name (Spencer) that Boxing Canada officials have flown him in — with funding from the Own the Podium program — and put him up in a hotel and secured him accreditation for her fights. Spencer, a three-time world champion, meets Jinzi Li of China Monday at the ExCel Arena.

A win and she’s in the medal round.

Team officials also brought Stewart to the pre-Olympic training in Belfast, Northern Ireland and have team massage therapist Ricardo Santia working on the veteran trainer’s sore hips and back so he can work the corner with Gagnon for Spencer’s fights.

“We had a training camp where we practiced with Charlie, with a timer, to make sure he’s OK,” said Boxing Canada high performance director Daniel Trepanier. “So far he looks good.”

It’s not all about Mary.

Obviously the two Canadian male boxers at these Games — super heavyweight Simon Kean of Trois-Rivieres, Que. and welterweight Custio Clayton of Dartmouth, N.S. — are getting the attention they need. Kean defeated Tony Yoka of France last week and faces Kazakhstan bruiser Ivan Dychko Monday, while Clayton, who has already won two bouts, goes up against European champ Freddie Evans Tuesday in the quarter-finals. If he defeats the Welshman, he’s guaranteed a medal.

Canada has not won a medal in Olympic boxing since 1996.

The men have gone 3-0 so far, but Spencer is definitely the star of the show. Women’s boxing is an official sport at the Olympics for the first time and Boxing Canada officials are banking on Spencer coming up big — even though she lost her first bout at the world championships in May and needed an IOC wild card to get into the Games.

So when Spencer says she needs her coach here, Boxing Canada acted.

“It wouldn’t be the same if he wasn’t here. He’s been there with me for 10 years. How could I not have Charlie here?” said Spencer, 27. “Just the comfort of having him around, because when I’m nervous I want someone who’s familiar around. I take what he says to heart. If everyone in the world says, ‘You can beat this girl’ but I didn’t hear it from Charlie, I’m not going to feel 100% sure that I can beat her. If Charlie says, ‘You can beat her, all you have to do is this, this and this,’ then I feel like I can beat her. All I have to do is what he says.

“He’s an amazing coach. He’s a master at strategy. He can pick apart fighters. He can find their weaknesses. He knows what to do to exploit them.”

As for Li, the Chinese boxer was the 75-kg world champion at 2008 (Spencer also won the gold that year in the 69-kg weight class), Spencer defeated her 14-2 in the final at the 2010 worlds.

“But we know it’s not the same girl,” Trepanier said of Li. “The Chinese put a lot of money on their program for boxing and she’s way better than she was for 2010.

“But it’s been a long time since I’ve seen Mary in this condition. I think not going into the Olympic as the No.1, she’s more angry than ever to take her place back at the top.”

At a recent training session at Rooney’s Gym located underneath London Bridge, Gagnon put Spencer through her paces while Stewart offered guidance from a chair near the ring. Stewart said he hurt his hip years ago and could hardly walk at one time.

But he’s confident that he will be able to work the corner, even if he’s unable to climb up into the ring. At least Spencer will know he’s there.

“I feel a lot better,” Stewart said. “I know Mary wants me in the ring. So I have to do what I can to be there.”

steve.buffery@sunmedia.ca

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