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Olympics2012Canadian boxers enter ring with medals on the line

Posted: Sunday, August 5, 2012 | 11:43 PM

Categories: Olympics2012

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Simon Kean just needs one more victory to help guarantee Canada its first men's boxing medal since 1996. (Jack Guez/Getty Images) Simon Kean just needs one more victory to help guarantee Canada its first men's boxing medal since 1996. (Jack Guez/Getty Images)

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Canada will have a crack at earning up to three boxing medals over the next two days, but the expectations differ for the fighters involved.

Canada will have a crack at earning up to three boxing medals over the next two days, but the expectations differ for the fighters involved.

Simon Kean, Custio Clayton and Mary Spencer can each guarantee a medal of some kind with a win in their quarter-final bouts.

That's because in boxing, for safety precautions, fighters who lose in the semifinals each claim bronze instead of fighting each other. The rule's a bit of a relic from an era where fighters could legitimately be hurt or concussed from their quarter-final bout, but changes to boxing in the last 20 years have made the sport often resemble fencing with gloves. 

Kean of Trois-Rivieres, Que., on Monday will take on Ivan Dychko of Kazakhstan in a super heavyweight bout (No truth to the rumour that Dycho says "I must break you" to his opponents), while a day later Custio Clayton of Dartmouth, N.S. will tangle with Freddie Evans of Great Britain in a 69-kilogram tilt.

(Editor's note: Spencer lost her quarter-final match to Li Jinzi of China by a decision of 17-14. Later, Kean dropped a 20-6 decision to Ivan Dychko of Kazakhstan).

Even just one medal from the Canadian pair will be gravy.

That's partially a reflection of the Canadian program in recent years. Canada hasn't won a medal since David Defiagbon took silver against the great Felix Savon in 1996, and we've sent a total of just three boxers to the Games in Beijing and here.

It's also a reflection of the fact that Evans is ranked in the top 3 by the International Boxing Association (AIBA) and that the Kazakh won bronze at the 2011 worlds.

For Mary Spencer, on the other hand, it's put up or shut up time.

That may sound harsh for a pioneer in this country in women's amateur boxing, but the three-time world champion from Windsor, Ont., has been given the most favourable draw imaginable after recent losses saw her need a wildcard berth decided by officials just to compete in England.

And hey, if you're going to take the punches in the ring you should be able to take the slings outside of the squared circle.

While Spencer was getting an awful lot of ink over her self-inflicted waiting game for a spot in the 75-kilogram class, around about the same time Kean and Clayton got just about zero press attention from the Canadian media despite booking their place with actual results in the ring in South America.

Spencer has lost this year to 17-year-old Flint, Mich., native Clarissa Shields and Anna Laurell of Sweden. Both of those fighters ended up on the opposite side of the draw as Spencer, as did recent world champion Savannah Marshall of Great Britain.

Spencer received a bye into the quarters and will only need to beat her Chinese opponent on Monday to box again in the semis against either an opponent from Nigeria or Azerbaijan

I would love to see her make a strong stand into the final because otherwise she could conceivably win a bronze medal with a record of 1-1 due to a 12-fighter draw that includes four byes. I think we're all on board with equality in sport and celebrating any Canadian medal, but that would be a bit of a nose plugger.

Women's boxing made its Olympic debut on Sunday, and the timing is interesting to say the least.

That's because over the first week of competition, AIBA has again often resembled a clown show, with impenetrable scoring, inexplicable referee decisions and a product that's nearly devoid of the drama that comes when a fighter can turn a fight around with a devastating punch.

There have been at least two decisions that have been overturned. Referees were punished while judges who handed in curious scorecards were not.

This after IOC president Jacques Rogge expressed displeasure in recent years with some of the sport's ills.

One decision overturned had originally rewarded an Azerbaijani fighter. This after a BBC report late last year suggested that an Azerbaijan businessman pumped a lot of money into AIBA's venture.

Now about those Americans

Meanwhile, there is utter disbelief and teeth gnashing from boxing writers and fans in the U.S. over the fact that the Americans will likely be shut out of the medals.

There seems to be a tremendous amount of denial there about the state of affairs. You can rehaul the amateur program six ways to Sunday, guys, but it's not going to lead to six or eight medals for the Americans like the "good old days."

There are fewer gyms in the U.S., the sport isn't on free television anymore, Americans have little influence with the AIBA power brokers, and most importantly, the times have completely changed. 

I'm OK with comparisons to U.S. teams from 1992 and on, but the wonderful bloggers, writers and fans who populate and occasionally converse with me on Twitter in a (mostly) good natured way need to stop bringing up the glory years between 1976 to 1988.

The 1976 team was just a legendary group, while the next two teams saw their medal counts inflated by boycotts. The fact many of the fighters from 1984 and 1988 had really good pro careers doesn't change that fact.

The amateur game has become truly global. There are over a dozen post-Soviet states when there used to be just one fighter, while China and India used to have nothing to do with the sport. Hosting major events helped them reconsider that stance.

In short, there's eight to a dozen fighters per division that wouldn't have been there before.

The U.S. fighters almost to a man are interested in pursuing pro careers, but that's not the case in much of the rest of the world.

For example, should the Canadian Kean win on Monday, he may face in the semifinals Roberto Cammarelle. The Italian's 32 years old! The Indian and Chinese fighters aren't turning pro en masse.

So while it would be wonderful for an American fighter to get a publicity boost, the results at the Olympics are fairly meaningless in terms of who will be a good pro fighter.

It's not like the main network in the U.S. is going to dramatically alter its narrowcasting approach of gymnastics, swimming, track and volleyball, with a side of everything else. One appearance on the main network in a boxing ring isn't going to mean a huge momentum starter for a pro career.

These aren't the Ray Leonard days. Andre Ward of the U.S. won gold in 2004 and is one of the best in the business, but isn't known to the average sports fan or sports media member. That's partially the fault of negligent sports media members, but the fact is he probably would be known to more people if, like Steven Lopez from judo, he went on a dopey reality show.

As much as I think AIBA and amateur boxing's a bit of a joke, when I see columns from south of the border saying the sport should be junked, it's a bit insulting to the rest of the world, the non-corrupt types who are also plugging away. Heaven forbid the U.S. have a prologned slump in something. Must get rid of the sport then.

A very substantial portion of pro boxing titleholders today are from the U.S., the rest of the Americas, Germany and Japan. The sum total of boxing medals won by ALL of the aforementioned regions at the 2008 Olympics was two. Out of a possible 33.

So it's not like this is affecting the quality of American pro fighters to any great degree. So chill out about it, already. 

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