Canada looks to have bigger boxing team, even a medal or two, at 2016 Olympics

Canada looks to have bigger boxing team, even a medal or two, at 2016 Olympics

MONTREAL — There were no surprise winners at the Canadian Olympic boxing trials — not even 17-year-old rising star Thomas Blumenfeld — and national team high performance director Daniel Trepanier likes it that way.

“All the national champions here this week were able to grab their spots again and we can go to Argentina for the first qualifier with a very experienced team,” Trepanier said after the five-day trials. “We have really good potential.”

That hasn’t been said of a Canadian team for quite some time. Canada has not won an Olympic boxing medal since David Defiagbon’s silver in 1996 in Atlanta.

The heyday of the 1980s, when Lennox Lewis won gold in Seoul in 1988, are long gone.

Only three Canadians qualified for the last Olympics in 2012 in London and while Custio Clayton of Dartmouth, N.S., came within a point of a podium, none won a medal. In 2008, only one Canadian qualified and he lost his first bout.

Trepanier believes five or six Canadians will qualify this time. He thinks there is medal potential in all three women’s weight classes and at least a chance for two or three men, including light welterweight Arthur Biyarslanov, a gold medallist at the Pan American Games in Toronto this summer.

Samir El Mais of Calgary, a 35-year-old heavyweight, looks to have a good shot at reaching the Olympics and you can’t count out Blumenfeld, an impressive Montreal-born flyweight who elected to fight as a Canadian even though he has dual citizenship and does most of his training in the United States.

But now comes the hard part.

The trials produced a team of 10 men and three women, one for each Olympic boxing event, but they each must qualify individually for the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro. The first chance is a tournament for the North and South American zone in March in Argentina.

As host country, Brazil gets six spots of its choosing. In those divisions, only the top two will qualify for the Olympics. In the others, it is the top three. It will be known which divisions those are when they get to the tournament.

“It’s so hard now to get to the Olympics,” said Trepanier. “You need the stars to be aligned.

“You need to have a perfect tournament. It’s so tense when you go to a qualifier. There’s not much margin for error.”

On the women’s side, flyweight Mandy Bujold, a native of Kitchener, Ont., is ranked second in the world. Middleweight Ariane Fortin of St-Redempteur, Que., is ranked third, while lightweight Caroline Veyre of Montreal is a Pan Am Games champion.

Women’s boxing debuted at the 2012 Olympics with three weight divisions. It is expected to expand to five for the 2020 Games.

Biyarslanov — nicknamed the “Chechyan Wolf” — moved to Canada 10 years ago. He put himself into the picture with a gutsy win over Cuban Yasnier Toledo in the Pan Am Games final.

“It gave me a lot of motivation,” said the Toronto fighter.

Blumenfeld, meanwhile, opted to fight as a Canadian two years ago. He has lived and trained in several places, notably Albany, N.Y., and now trains in Boston under Hector Bermudez, who took Javier Fortuna to the WBA flyweight title.

Blumenfeld’s mother is Canadian and he sometimes stays with relatives in Magog, Que.

“I chose Canada,” said Blumenfeld, who turns 18 on Dec. 26. “I like the coaches and the way they treat me.

“And in America there’s a lot of politics to get in the game. They have their favourites picked out.”

The men’s last-chance qualifier is set for June in Azerbaijan. The women’s event is scheduled for May in Kazakhstan.

Bill Beacon, The Canadian Press

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