Canadian boxer Thibeault leaves Pan Ams with bronze, but knows she's capable of more

Tammara Thibeault is leaving the Pan Am Games with a bronze medal, and is a Canadian athlete on the rise. But the 22-year-old middleweight from Montreal — who was the 2017 Canadian champion in her 75 kg weight class, and has won gold at the Continental Championships — wasn't here to prove anything to anyone but herself.

Montreal native has sights set on winning an Olympic medal at Tokyo 2020

Canada's Tammara Thibeault (red) lost to Colombia's Jessica Caicedo in the women's middleweight semifinals at the Pan Am Games in Lima, Peru on Tuesday. (Carlos Osorio for CBC Sports)

LIMA, Peru — Tammara Thibeault is leaving the Pan Am Games with a bronze medal after a semifinal loss to Colombia's Jessica Caicedo, but has proven time and again that she is a Canadian athlete on the rise.

The 22-year-old middleweight from Montreal — who was the 2017 Canadian champion in her 75 kg weight class, won Commonwealth Games bronze in 2018 and has won gold at the Continental Championships — says she wasn't here to prove anything to anyone but herself. And her loss, a 3-2 judges decision on Tuesday night, has her regretting a missed opportunity.

"[The match] didn't go the way I expected and I didn't reach my full potential here, but that's OK," she says. "I'm gonna get back to the gym and work harder. I disappointed myself, I know I can do better."

Scouting the opposition

Thibeault says her ultimate goal is an Olympic medal, but since there's no qualification on the line in Lima, she's using the Pan Ams as a chance to see the competition she'll be facing at the Continental Championships, which do offer a qualification spot in Tokyo.

"This is a good way to measure your progress," she says. "My qualifiers [feature] the best from the American continents. "[Lima] is a good way to see where I'm at and where I need to make improvements and how I can keep my spot at the top."

Boxing Canada's high-performance director Daniel Trépanier says Thibeault checks all the right boxes as an Olympic hopeful.

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"She's really dedicated as an athlete, she's really focused. Right now, the Pan Am Games are on the path, but her final objective … is the 2020 Tokyo Games.

"She is really skillful, she is really intelligent in the ring and also she brings a good size for her weight division," Trépanier continues. "She's tall and lanky and she's athletic. She has a lot of the tools that are required to perform in her weight division in international competitions."

Those tools include a quiet confidence in her abilities that has her locked in on her target.

"My ultimate goal in boxing is to win a gold medal at the Olympics," she says. "I know I have the potential, I know I have the work ethic to get there."

From tag along to Canadian champ

That work ethic was instilled in Thibeault by her father, who was the reason she first entered the ring at the Regina Boxing Club when she was about 10-years-old.

Thibeault says she tagged along with her father, Patrick Thibeault, who was then a wide receiver with the CFL's Saskatchewan Roughriders. 

"During his off-season, he would go to the Regina Boxing Club to keep in shape. At first it was something he wanted to do with his son, but one day I tagged along and I guess I just never left," she says.

Canada's Tammara Thibeault, shown in this file photo at left, will bring home a 2019 world championship bronze medal. (Carlos Osorio for CBC Sports)

Thibeault credits her father, who was drafted by the Riders in 2002, with her development into a world-class athlete.

"His drive, his work ethic [are attributes] that I admire a lot and it's something that's always motivated me to be better," Thibeault says. "He did everything with passion and conviction. I grew up with my father being a high-level athlete and I was able to learn a lot from him and helped me become the athlete I am today."

Cuban influenced, but entirely authentic

Thibeault says she doesn't really have any boxing idols, but she does have a style that she looks up to.

"I really idolize the Cuban style of boxing, because of its fluidity and its creativity," Thibeault says. "It's the style I like to integrate with my own style in workouts and performances.

"I really do think what's cool about boxing as a sport is that your personality and your character shine through. It's a great opportunity to be creative with your performances, your style, your movement and your punches. What I like about boxing is the different styles [allow me to] be myself and be authentic."

Trépanier says her creativity and physical skills have her well positioned at this early part of her career.

"She has all the tools to do it," he says. "Right now, I really believe that we're in the top five in the world with Tammara Thibeault. She's got all the tools. 

Focused on matters inside the ring

Assuming she fights her way to Tokyo 2020, Thibeault will be competing at the first Olympic boxing event not overseen by the International Boxing Association (AIBA), which has been suspended as the Olympic governing body for the sport.

The IOC ruled in May that AIBA will not play any role in organizing the tournament at Tokyo 2020.

However, just who is overseeing her sport in Tokyo is not something she spends any time thinking or worrying about. 

"I think as an athlete it's important to be focused on what you can control. And what I can control is my performance and how I get ready for this," Thibeault says. "I trust that everyone has the athlete's best interests in mind.

"As boxers, we focus on what we can control — our performances and getting ready. At the end of the day, it all comes down to two people in the ring, fighting each other. And there's nothing more to it."