Lewis an uneasy induction

STEVE SIMMONS,SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 2:47 PM ET

If there is discomfort with Lennox Lewis being inducted in Canada's Sports Hall of Fame, it is our discomfort, not his.

He doesn't think he did anything wrong. He says, just like Wayne Gretzky, that he had to go somewhere else to make it big, but he never forgot who he was, or where he was from, or how he got there.

That's his story.

"To me, I blamed it on the reporters," Lewis said yesterday, before last night's induction ceremony. "They are feeding people information which is untrue ... It's not like I'd forgotten Canada in any sense."

DOMINANT

There is no doubting Lewis' accomplishments as an athlete. There is doubting his long-term connection to Canada, at least in a public sense.

He won Olympic gold for Canada, at Seoul in 1988, in boxing in the most prestigious of all divisions. He was the dominant heavyweight boxer of his era, taking apart Riddick Bowe as an amateur and Evander Holyfield and Mike Tyson in his most memorable bouts. He was, without question, the greatest fighter this country has produced.

And the country did produce him. It just never warmed to him. The feeling, quite likely, was mutual, although it is not something Lewis necessarily is comfortable conversing about. Lewis fought twice in the Olympics for Canada. But when he fought in England or Las Vegas or at Madison Square Garden as a professional, when the biggest and the brightest lights shone on him, he was British or Jamaican or both, just never the kid who grew up playing high school sports in Kitchener, whom the late Arnie Boehm taught to fight. Never the kid who bought his home in Brampton and lived there more than he let anybody know.

In retrospect, it might have been easy to balance three countries and stay true to all of them. But when the decision was made, economic pragmatism reigned supreme: Lewis, for the most part, would pretend this wasn't home. It created some resentment in Canada, some resentment in England, two countries crying for a heavyweight champion of the world weren't sure what to think of their's.

Back then, he would bristle when asked about his Canadian roots. He never wanted to talk about it when the British or American press were around. If he was proud of where he learned to fight, it was a pride he carried on mostly with silence.

The flags that accompanied him to the ring, in every fight of significance, were never Canadian. He rarely was announced as being from Canada, or being an Olympic champion who represented Canada. It was easier and better business to be British.

"I did," Lewis said, "have three flags on my trunks. One of them was Canadian."

But still, his place in the Sports Hall of Fame isn't dubious but it is debatable.

Why should we care about someone who seemingly never cared about us? Why don't we love Lewis the way we adore George Chuvalo? And, no, this isn't a question of colour. Chuvalo always seemed part of the culture, part of the sporting fabric of Canada.

SO DIFFERENT

Lewis lived his entire career post-Seoul detached from Canada, so different from the Donovan Baileys and Steve Yzermans who also were honoured last night. No matter where they were, who they played for, what event they were part of, they never stopped wearing the red and white, never stopped carrying the flag.

For Lewis, some of the distance is understandable. He moved here at age 12 and was mostly gone by his early 20s. And a part of him -- something he still has trouble coming to grips with -- never got over the '88 Olympics.

It was the greatest moment of his athletic life, lost in a week in which Canada was consumed by the disqualification of Ben Johnson.

Lewis was superb in Seoul. His timing, none of it his own doing, could not have been worse. He won his gold medal on the last day of the Olympics. By that time, the hand-wringing over Johnson had become a national sport.

"It was a difficult situation for a lot of the medallists," Lewis said. "We took off our Canadian uniforms. We didn't want to be known as Canadians. We didn't want to be identified. We didn't want to be approached and asked about (Ben).

"If you weren't there, you can't understand what it is was like."


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