Mon, September 23, 2013

Canadian boxing team small but determined to put up a fight

By STEVE BUFFERY, QMI Agency


Canadian boxer and three-time world champion Mary Spencer. (MARC GIRARD/QMI Agency file photo)

LONDON - The Canadian Olympic boxing team won't dazzle you with its numbers. It consists of only three fighters -- one Golden Girl and two guys who are barely household names in their own households.

But what the team lacks in size -- and Olympic experience -- it hopefully will make up in readiness.

Boxing Canada high-performance director Daniel Trepanier has gone to significant lengths to ensure that once the Olympic tournament begins this weekend, the Canadians -- Mary Spencer, Simon Kean and Custio Clayton -- will be as prepared as any boxer at these Games.

During the three weeks leading up to the London Olympics, the Canadian boxers trained in Belfast, Northern Ireland at Queen's University, with four powerful national sides, including the Cubans, traditionally one of the strongest outfits in international boxing. Being able to train and spar with Cuban fighters leading up to a major Games is a coup. Other national teams taking part in the camp were Argentina, Ecuador and Australia, all solid amateur boxing nations.

"It went very well," Trepanier said. "We trained twice a day and sparred twice a week. And we had our own floor, with individuals rooms, with a dining room only for us."

There is little pressure on super heavyweight Kean and welterweight Clayton to do big things at these Games. Though both are promising fighters, neither comes into London with huge expectations. Spencer, of course, is a different story. The fighter from Windsor, Ont., is a three-time world champion but had to sneak through a back door in order to qualify for London. She lost her first bout at the world championship in Qinhuangdao, China last May (which acted as the Olympic qualifier) to Swedish fighter Anna Laurell -- and needed a wild card to get into London. During the weeks leading up to the worlds, Spencer also lost to 17-year-old American fighter Claressa Shields.

Spencer has charisma, an interesting background (she's part Ojibwa), and is -- what's the politically correct way to say this -- easy on the eyes. Given all of that, and the fact she has won three world titles, means the pressure on her in London is tremendous. Trepanier is aware of that, so he has made arrangements for Spencer to get every advantage possible leading up the opening bout in the women's middleweight division (75kg) on Aug.5 -- starting with the fact that Boxing Canada flew in her personal coach, Charlie Stewart, to Belfast.

"It's a comfort zone for her," Trepanier said. "For 10 years she has been with Charlie and he helped her get to three world championships."

Another wise move by Trepanier was his choice of training facility in London this week. Instead of working out at an Olympic facility, Trepanier has found a small gym in the London area where Spencer, Kean and Clayton can train, away from prying eyes, particularly the media. That's big for Spencer. After her losses at the worlds and against Shields, Trepanier admitted he was worried about Canada's golden girl. But now he thinks the pressure is much less intense -- even though Spencer has been profiled in pretty well every newspaper and on every network -- sports and otherwise -- in Canada over the past year.

"I think the way she qualified for London (via the wild card), she's not the favourite anymore, and that took a lot of pressure off her," Trepanier said. "She's not the champion anymore. But she wants to be the champion again and that gives her a little bit of motivation."

He said the goal for all of Canada's boxers at these Olympics is to put up a great fight every time they step into the ring. Canada hasn't won an Olympic medal in boxing since heavyweight David Defiagbon at the 1996 Atlanta Games.

"We want the other boxers to think that if they get a Canadian in the draw, they're in for a really tough bout," Trepanier said.

steve.buffery@sunmedia.ca

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