Canada looks to find answers to long medal drought at Olympic boxing trials

Canada looks to find answers to long medal drought at Olympic boxing trials

MONTREAL — When the 2016 Games open in Rio de Janeiro in August, it will have been 20 years since Canada won an Olympic boxing medal.

The team that saw Shawn O’Sullivan and Willie DeWit take silver in Los Angeles in 1984 and then had future undisputed champion Lennox Lewis win gold in 1998 in Seoul has been a shadow of itself the past two decades.

But Sammy El-Mais of Calgary wants to help end the drought.

“It stings a lot,” El-Mais said Wednesday. “But I’ve been on the team six years and the potential we’ve had is amazing.

“The improvement of the team has been nuts. They’ve done a great job grooming us and now it’s time to make it happen.”

The path to Rio starts Sunday when about 70 of Canada’s top male and female amateur boxers open the Olympic trials at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel. The winners in 10 men’s and three women’s weight classes will head to Argentina in March for the first Olympic qualification tournament.

Another chance to qualify comes in May at the women’s world championships and June at the final qualifying event in Azerbaijan.

Canada had only two male fighters, Custio Clayton and Simon Kean, and one woman, Mary Spencer, at the 2012 Games in London, where women’s boxing made its Olympic debut.

At the 2008 Games in Beijing, Adam Trupish was Canada’s lone representative and he was eliminated in his first bout. There were five at Athens in 2004 but the best medal hope, Jean Pascal, drew a Cuban in the first round and lost a close bout.

The last Olympic boxing medal won by a Canadian was a silver for David Defiagbon in 1996 in Atlanta.

National team coach Daniel Trepanier expects a bigger team in Rio, with fighters in each of the three women’s divisions and at least two or three men.

Canada won six medals at the Pan-Am Games in Toronto this summer, including gold for light welterweight Arthur Biyarslanov of Toronto and lightweight Caroline Veyre of Montreal.

“This year in Rio we have the potential to go for one or two medals,” said Trepanier. “It looks bright for Rio.”

The best medal hopes are on the women’s side, where Ariane Fortin of Montreal is ranked third in the world among middleweights and Mandy Bujold of Toronto is second in the flyweight division. Biyarslanov is the top ranked man at 12th in his division.

Pat Fiacco, the former mayor of Regina who has been president of Boxing Canada for five years, said it is tougher to qualify today than it was in the 1980s. For one, the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union created more strong boxing countries, including Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Ukraine.

There is also the World Series of Boxing, which started five years ago, and the more recent APB pro series, which are guaranteed an allotment of Olympic spots. Canada is not part of either, although it intends to place a team in the world series next year.

Fiacco said Boxing Canada is taking steps to build its international presence, with referees, judges and supervisors more active at major events and on committees.

“The rest of the world changed and we were a bit late in that,” said Fiacco. “Canada has to be involved.”

The sport is also working on boosting its funding, both from government, the Own The Podium program and private sources. Fiacco said it has also helped that Boxing Canada moved its headquarters from Ottawa to the new Olympic House in Montreal to strengthen ties with the Canadian Olympic Committee.

Bill Beacon, The Canadian Press

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