Mon, September 23, 2013

Canada's Olympic Jack-in-the-boxer

Kean is the clown prince of the ring

By STEVE BUFFERY, QMI Agency


Canadian super heavyweight boxer Simon Kean. (AL CHAREST/QMI Agency)

LONDON - Standing alongside a ring at Rooney’s Boxing Club in downtown London, Canadian super-heavyweight Simon Kean is asked if he has any pre-fight routines the night before a big match.

Boxing Canada’s high performance director Daniel Trepanier translates the question in French for the big Quebecois boxer.

“Yeah,” Kean answers in heavily-accented English. “But it’s personal.”

At which point both Kean and Trepanier laugh.

Well, he’s asked, does the routine at least has something to do with boxing?

Again, more laughs. Kean clearly understands the question.

“I don’t think so,” said Trepanier.

Pressed further, Trepanier finally answers, “We’ve got a lot of magazines.”

And they both laugh so more.

Clearly, Kean is not your everyday, uptight athlete. According to Trepanier, the 6-foot-5, 243-pound brawler from Trois-Rivieres, Que., who meets Tony Yoka of France in his first bout on Wednesday night here at the London Olympics, is the unofficial “team clown”.

“He brings joy and really funny moments to the team,” said Trepanier. “And when there’s a little bit of tension, he’s the one who does a joke and everybody smiles. He’s like a Jack in the Box. You never know what to expect from Simon Kean.”

That much is true. Kean is an easy-going, funny dude. But as the case with many boxers, there’s a dark side to his persona. He has a troubled history, including some trips to the local lock-up, and a sad family history. In describing his super heavy, Trepanier put is this way — If there’s trouble, Simon will be in the middle of it.

“Causing it, or breaking it up?” he’s asked.

“Both,” said Trepanier.

“For sure, we need to keep an eye on Simon,” the Boxing Canada HPD said. “In the ring, he’s really good. But outside the ring, sometimes he could give us a headache. But we’re making sure we keep an eye on Simon. He knows why he’s here at the Olympics, to perform and bring a medal for Canada. And, so far, we cannot say anything (bad) about him. He follows the rules. He did everything we ask, he trained harder than most of the people. So far Simon Kean has been very good.”

To understand Kean, you have to understand his childhood, though he’s not exactly open about it. Judo was his sport of choice early in life, but he switched to boxing at 16 after his cousin took him to a gym, and he fell in love with the sport. At least that’s the official London 2012 bio version. Kean has a different version of events.

“When I’m fighting in school, I’m bad, because I’m only playing judo. But I want to hit everybody. So I try boxing,” he said, smacking his left hand with his right fist.

“That’s true!” he added, and then starts to laugh again.

For the first few years, boxing was more for fun than anything, but at 19, Kean realized that he had a future in the sport and soon made the national team. He’s not a high seed here at the Olympics, but with his size and punching power, Kean is confident he can cause some damage.

“I want a podium. Gold medal. That’s it,” he said.

Whatever he accomplishes in London will be a victory for Kean, who has had to overcome a series of personal and physical set-backs to get to where he is today.

He was raised from 16 by his grandfather after he father passed away.

Kean wouldn’t elaborate when asked about his dad.

“It’s just a very sad way to lose a family member,” said Trepanier. “Everytime he goes into the ring, he thinks about his father.”

And then he had some legal issues.

“He had a tough childhood,” said Trepanier. “But that’s probably makes Simon so tough in the ring, his tough life.”

Adding to his personal challenges were a couple of serious injuries which put his career back. Though he’s 23, Kean’s international experience is limited because of two major injuries — the first a crushed leg after an all-terrain accident in 2007 which almost resulted in his leg being cut off. One of his ankles is partially deformed. Last year, he under went surgery in his right shoulder. Only now is it getting to 100%.

“For sure he doesn’t have the flexibility that he used to have with one leg. That’s why sometimes he’s a little bit off-balanced in the ring,” said Trepanier. “But probably his biggest weakness is his experience. He’s had a lot of injuries in recent years and that kept him away from fighting. But he’s really strong. Has got good hands, good speed. You never know at that weight, one punch could change everything. He could surprise a lot of people.”

Kean is full of surprises. When asked what he will do to beat the more experienced Yoka, he laughed and said: “I’m going to switch south!”

It’s a joke. Switching from an orthodox to a southpaw style is something only the slickest fighters can do well. When you’re 6-5 and 243 pounds, it’s, well, hard to imagine.

It’s a boxing joke. A pretty good one.

steve.buffery@sunmedia.ca

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