Leduc remembered as Olympic champ, gay role model

Canadian boxer Mark Leduc, who earned a silver medal at the 1992 Olympics and was one of the few athletes in his sport to come out as gay, died on Wednesday.

Mark Leduc, who earned a silver medal in boxing for Canada at the 1992 Olympics and later announced he was gay, died on Wednesday.

He was 47.

Leduc was found unconscious in a sauna on Sunday and might have died from heat stroke, according to a report in the Toronto Star.

It marked the end of a fascinating life that could have easily not reached its full potential. Leduc's boxing journey to Barcelona began at Collins Bay Penitentiary in Kingston, where he learned the sport after a misspent youth.

"If you look [at his life] it's actually consistent. There's a little bit of rebellion, in different ways, across the board," said Mark Tewksbury, gold medal swimmer for Canada at the 1992 Olympics.

"That was part of his character, and it's probably what made him great."

Tewksbury told on Friday that he felt a camaraderie with Leduc. Both would go on to speak publicly about being gay and breaking barriers in sport.

Leduc won four bouts at the 1992 Barcelona Games in the 139-lb light welterweight class, including over future pro title-holder Leonard Dorin. Leduc would go on to lose in the final to Hector Vinent of the powerhouse Cuban squad.

While the Toronto native had previously beaten the likes of Canadians Howard Grant and Fitz Vanderpool in the amateur ranks, he was already 29 and not considered one of the top medal contenders from the Olympic squad.

'Biggest heart in the world'

"He trained hard, [and] he had the biggest heart in the world," former teammate Mike Strange told "Technical-wise he wasn't great, but it was just non-stop punching and heart.

"Even when he got tired, he never, never gave up, and he wore so many people down. It just showed, with hard work and perseverance and never giving up, what you could do."

Differences in age and experiences, to say nothing of his sexuality, would have given Leduc good reason to be aloof around his teammates. But Strange remembers many good times spent hanging out with Leduc, Billy Irwin and Tom Glesby.

"He was such a friendly guy; he'd do anything for you," said Strange, a three-time Olympian.

Leduc never had huge designs on a pro career, but the Olympic success made it an inevitable development. He embarked on a brief career and went almost immediately from fighting three rounds to 10 and even 12 stanzas. He won four of five fights before deciding to retire.

Around the same time, he publicly announced he was gay.

While Leduc wasn't the first boxer to struggle with his sexuality — former world champion Emile Griffith preceded him in that regard — being gay was definitely not commonplace in the sport.

"In a perfect world, we wouldn't have to talk about these things," said Tewksbury. "But in the world of boxing ... it's a real rare person that's brave enough to speak openly about that and it shakes the system.

"Before something becomes a non-issue, it has to be an issue, there's just no way around it."

Leduc and Tewksbury would be featured in the documentaries For the Love of the Game and CBC Radio's The Last Closet. Both athletes also spent time talking to gay youth.

Tewksbury may have come off as more polished, but the swimmer said on Friday that between the two of them, Leduc was usually less nervous about sharing his story.

"He was quite a soft person outside of the ring," said Tewksbury.

Leduc worked building sets in the film industry in Toronto after his pro career and once served as marshal in the city's Pride parade.

His accomplishment is one of 17 Olympic medals the country has earned in the sport.

Canada has not won a boxing medal since heavyweight David Defiagbon from Halifax took silver in 1996, with the last gold courtesy of Lennox Lewis eight years earlier.