Mon, September 23, 2013

Two Canadian male boxers earn berths to London Olympics

By STEVE BUFFERY, QMI Agency


Canadian boxer Simon Kean. (QMI AGENCY)

Contrary to numerous predictions, the Canadian men’s boxing team did not just dry and blow away in the hot Brazilian sun last week.

The team, in fact, surprised a great many in the amateur boxing world by qualifying two fighters for the 2012 London Olympics (and just missing in two other weight classes), and by performing at an surprisingly high level at the AIBA Americas Olympic Qualifying tournament in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

“Before we came here, a lot of people were saying that we’d be lucky if we qualified one boxer for London,” Daniel Trepanier, Boxing Canada High Performance Director, said over the phone from Rio.

“They said we won’t see any male boxers go to the Olympics. But we came in here as underdogs and I think we proved that we’re back on track and we’re getting stronger. In fact, I don’t think we’re that far off from the best teams down here.”

The men’s national team, which has taken a back seat to the women’s program in recent years, roared out of the gates Rio and stormed to a 10-1 record to start the event. Unfortunately, men’s international amateur boxing being what it is — arguably the most difficult sport to qualify for the Olympics — the Canadians ran into some extremely tough competition in later rounds. In the end, super heavyweight (91kg plus) Simon Kean of Trois-Rivieres, Que. and Halifax welterweight Custio Clayton earned spots for the London Games. Two other fighters, middleweight Brody Blair of Lyons Brook, N.S. — a bronze medallist at last year’s Pan-American Games in Guadalajara, Mexico — and heavyweight Heavyweight Samir (Sweet Sammy) El-Mais of Windsor, ON came one spot short of earning a ticket for London. Canada qualified just one fighter for the 2008 Olympics, Windsor welterweight Adam Trupish.

Both El-Mais and Blair needed the boxers who beat them in the quarter and semi-finals respectively, to win the finals. Unfortunately, that did not happen. In El-Mais’ case, the opponent he lost to in the semis, Yamil Peralta of Argentina (15-12), gave it his all in the final, but lost the gold medal match to American Michael Hunter 12-10. If Peralta had defeated Hunter, the 31-year-old El-Mais would have qualified. Given his age, El-Mais’ dream of competing at the Olympics is likely over.

For Blair’s part, missing out on an Olympic spot was particularly agonizing. The personable fighter, who was magnificent in his first two fights — out-pointing his opponents 55-15 — lost to Junior Castillo of the Dominican Republic in the quarter-finals 20-15. Castillo later moved on to meet American Terrell Gausha in the final.

If he had defeated the Yank, Blair would be off to London. But Gausha defeated Castillo 6-2. The worst part for Blair? Gausha and Castillo had already qualified for London prior to the gold medal match, so Castillo took it upon himself not to give it his best shot in the final, thereby sealing Blair’s fate as a non Olympian.

“It was very unfortunate. (Castillo) didn’t try to win the fight,” said Trepanier. “He hardly threw a punch the whole fight. And that was very tough for Brody to watch.”

Trepanier said AIBA, the world amateur boxing association, will change the format in the future so quota spots for Olympics and worlds will be taken out of the hands of fighters who have already qualified. But that’s too late for Blair and El-Mais.

The good news, Trepanier is confident that Blair, who is only 20, will stick around for the 2013 world championships in Kazakhstan and for the 2016 Olympics in Rio. In fact, Trepanier believes most of the fighters on the current men’s team will be in the picture for the next Olympics.

“I think this bodes well for the future of boxing in Canada,” he said.

For Kean, qualifying for the Olympics is particularly satisfying. The Quebec fighter almost didn’t make it to Rio because of a recent shoulder injury. Two years ago, he severely damaged his leg in an all-terrain accident, narrowly avoiding amputation.

“He was, for a lot of people, the favorite coming in here,” said Trepanier. “If not for a lucky punch (thrown by eventual gold medallist Ytalo Perea of Ecuador) in the semis, he might have won.”

WORLDS OF TROUBLE

The bad news for Kitchener boxer Mandy Bujold started in 2010 when South Korean fighter Hye Song Kim decided to drop down a weight class.

The very talented Kim won a silver medal in the 54kg weight class at the 2010 women’s world championships, but then decided to drop down to the 51 kg class for the 2012 London Olympics. And as luck would have it, Kim’s first-round opponent in her new weight class at the 2012 world championships this week — the Olympic qualifying event — was Bujold. And after a hard-fought match, Kim defeated Bujold, the defending Pan American champion, 11-9, ending Bujold’s dream of representing Canada at the London Games.

The bad news continued for Canada at the world in Qinhuangdao, China as lightweight (60kg) Sandra Bizier of Quebec City lost to Mexico’s Erika Cruz Hernandez 15-10. Bizier. the 2005 world bronze medallist at 57kg, is also out of the London picture, leaving only three-time

world champion Mary Spencer (75kg) in the hunt to qualify for one of the three remaining spots for women’s boxing at the Games.