Mon, November 18, 2013

Canadian boxers get down and dirty at old-school London gym

By STEVE BUFFERY, QMI Agency


Olympic boxers optimistic heading into competition
 

LONDON - It's not easy to locate Rooney's Gym in the heart of historic London. And that's the way Boxing Canada high performance director Daniel Trepanier wanted it.

Trepanier accidently stumbled upon the joint last March while jogging during a visit to London, and he thought it would be a prefect place for the Canadian Olympic team to train during the Games, and especially ideal for the team's great gold-medal hope, three-time world champion Mary Spencer.

"It IS really hard to find," Trepanier said, with a smile, following a team training session on Saturday morning. "And we know that for people who wanted to come here, it would be hard to find us."

So what's the deal? Why is the boxing team "hiding out" in a little gym, 20 minutes away from the athlete's village? It's mainly about Spencer.

Leading up the Games, Spencer has been the focus of a huge media campaign, and with all the drama of her failing to initially qualify for the Olympics and then receiving a wild card into the Games at the last minute, the Windsor fighter has had more interview requests than you could shake a water bottle at recently.

So while most boxers at these Olympics are training at the official training venue, the Canadians are at Rooney's Gym, with the noise, the heat, the stink. The perfect place.

"The set-up has been awesome," said Spencer. "Training in a spot like this reminds us that it's just boxing. We don't feel like we're at the Olympics. We're just in a crummy gym and it's just real comfortable. It feels like we're at home."

Rooney's is something right out of an English gangster movie. Tucked between Holyrood and Bermondsey Streets, it sits directly below historic London Bridge. In fact you can hear the trains thunder overhead as the fighters work out. At the Bermondsey St. entrance is a little sign with an arrow pointing to the door which reads "Unified Ireland." And though Rooney's caters now as much to "white collar" fighters as to the old time pros, the gym has a definite gritty, inner-city feel. A number of big-time pros have trained on the premises, including highly ranked super middleweight Patrick (The Tiger) Mendy and former British featherweight champion Martin Lindsay.

On this Saturday morning, many of the "white collar" members stop to watch Spencer and her teammates -- super heavyweight Simon Kean of Trois-Rivieres, Que., and welterweight Custio Clayton of Dartmouth, N.S., -- go through their paces. They're a confident bunch, particularly Spencer who received a favourable draw on Friday and doesn't have to fight until the second round on Aug.6. Despite losing at the Olympic qualifiers in China in May -- and relying on a last-minute wild card to get into the Games -- Spencer insisted she never bought into the panic exhibited by some outside her camp, who seemed to think that her loss in China, and the fact that she lost another bout shortly before that, meant gloom and doom in London for one of the world's most celebrated female boxers.

"I never felt like I got off track," said Spencer. "To me, everything has happened the way it should happen. Losing (at the trials), did nothing to set me off track."

Trepanier believes that Spencer may have been looking past the trials a little too much when she lost to Swedish fighter Anna Laurell, but believes she is "refocused" and "angry". But Spencer denies that she looked past Laurell or anyone else leading up to London. Women's boxing, she said, may be a new sport at the Olympic Games, but it is improving by leaps and bounds every year.

"I never felt like I was untouchable. Some people looked at some of the scores I had against former world champions and got the impression I was untouchable. I never thought that," she said. "These girls are amazing boxers.

"I had two losses this year, which makes 10 total," she added. "I had eight before that. I know what it's like to lose. I know that there's girls out there that, if I'm not at my best, they're going to beat me. So I wouldn't necessarily say it was a wakeup call. I know these girls are good."

Spencer will face the winner of a first-round middleweight bout (75kg) between Roseli Feitosa of Brazil and Jin Zi Lin of China, like the Canadian, a former world champion. A win would be a trip to the medal round.

"I'm completely ready," she said. "I was just telling my coaches that I feel like the timing is perfect, I'm feeling that peak and I'm looking forward to fighting."

steve.buffery@sunmedia.ca

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