Mon, September 23, 2013

Good chance Spencer will make Olympics

By STEVE BUFFERY, QMI Agency


Mary Spencer, of Windsor (left), competes against Irina Poteyeva, of Russia, in a quarter-final bout in the 66-kg division at the 2009 world women's boxing championships in China. Spencer won the bout on her way to her second world title. (Courtesy AIBA)

World boxing champion Mary Spencer has been the golden girl of the Canadian media the past few months.

Three world titles, an intriguing background and the fact that women’s boxing is making its Olympic debut this summer in London has resulted in Spencer becoming one of the highest profile amateur athletes in Canada. Hardly a day went by when her story wasn’t splashed on the pages of a newspaper, or her voice heard on the radio or TV.

Unfortunately, the hype has surpassed the actual performance, at least recently.

The Windsor boxer was considered the early favourite to win the gold medal in the 75kg division at the London Olympics based on her three world titles, including a gold at the 2010 worlds in Scranton, Pa.

But her road to Olympic glory has taken a wrong turn, and just making it to the London Games is now out of her hands.

Spencer, who was born in Wiarton and is of Ojibwe heritage, lost her first bout at the world championships on Monday in Qinhuangdao, China, to Anna Laurell of Sweden (18-11). The worlds act as the only Olympic qualifier for the women, though Spencer may receive one of two wild-card byes into the Olympics when an selection committee from the international amateur boxing association (AIBA) meets following this week’s event.

“She’s a three-time world champion and according to (AIBA), in terms of their classification, she is the No.1 athlete in the world,” said Boxing Canada executive director Robert Crete. “So the odds of her going to the Olympics are great.”

Still, even if Spencer does get a pass to compete at the London Games, her status as a medal favourite is no longer a given.

Her loss to Laurell, the world champion in the 75kg division in 2001 and 2005, who happens to have an PhD from Sweden’s prestigious Royal Institute of Technology, was disappointing, though perhaps not shocking. Just one month ago at the Continental championships in Cornwall, Spencer lost to 17-year-old American fighter Claressa Shields, (27-14). Clearly, with 74 days to go before the Olympics begin, the Windsor Amateur Boxing Club fighter is not firing on all cylinders.

“I don’t have any excuses at all for my loss,” Spencer said, via e-mail, following her loss to Laurell, adding that losing early in the tournament gives her an extra week to prepare for London.

“It’s very important in times like these that we get the best out of the situation,” she added. “(But) it’s back to the drawing board for Charlie (coach Charlie Stewart) and I.”

It’s been a hugely disappointing showing for Canadian boxers at the women’s world championships. Prior to Spencer’s loss, Canadian fighters in the two other Olympic weight classes — Kitchener’s Mandy Bujold (51kg) and Sandra Bizier of Quebec City (60kg) — lost their opening bouts and were eliminated.

Unlike Spencer, Bujold and Bizier aren’t in the position to earn a wild card allocation to the London Games given the fact that other boxers from the Americas won their opening matches in their weight classes and will finish ahead of Bujold and Bizier in the standings. Bujold, the 2011 Pan American champion, and Bizier, the 2005 world championship bronze medallist, were once considered Olympic medal hopefuls.

In Spencer’s case, none of the other 75 kg fighters from the Americas made it to the round of 16 at the worlds, a group of five that includes Spencer and Shields. Two of those boxers will be given wild card berths.

Crete admitted on Monday that he does not know the exact criteria for how the two wild card berths in the 75kg class will be selected, though he’s very confident that it will be done in a fair way and, when all is said and done, Spencer will get through.

“With any major decision, they have to have a good, sound rationale whey they choose that athlete,” said Crete. “Usually 99.9% of the time, they have a logical explanation.”