The amateur boxing scene in Canada has been busy these days with the Tokyo 2020 Olympics Games less than a year away. There’s still much to do with respect to team preparation and least of all is the task of selecting which boxers to send to major qualifying events.
The qualifier for Boxing Canada is scheduled for December and this will be the event that will determine which athletes advance to the Olympic qualifiers. Or will it? There are many skeptics who feel the Canadian qualifier is a mere formality and that the advancing athletes have already been chosen. The only one who knows for sure is Boxing Canada’s Technical Director, Daniel Trepanier, and he’s not known for sharing his secrets. To help us make up our mind as to who the top candidates to represent Canada should be, let’s take a closer look at what the athletes have been up to lately.
The 2019 Pan American Games was a bit of a bust with our team winning only a silver and a bronze medal, but in fairness, Boxing Canada did not send its best athletes. It’s unclear why Daniel Trepanier did not send the A-team. Maybe he grew a heart and sent some of the team’s aging members so they could have a fitting and final swan song. The average age of the Pan Am team was close to thirty years: Sabrina Aubin Brochu 34; Irene Fiolek 28; Myriam Da Silva Rondeau 35; Harley-David O’Reilly 30, and Bryan Colwell 29. This is not a young squad.
The only athlete that seemingly deserved to be there and that is worth developing at this point is Tammara Thibeault who, at 22, is a kid compared to her team mates. She won gold at the qualifier but fell short in her Pan Am Games semifinal match against Columbia, earning a bronze medal. Thibeault has all the physical skills and assets to be a champion but it is rumored that she struggles with staying focused.
Da Silva Rondeau received a bye in the first round and beat the Mexican boxer to reach the finals. She fought a decent final but her loose style left too many openings for American O’Shea Jones and thus she came home with the silver.
On a more uplifting note, several members of the national team traveled to Puerto Rico in July and all came home winners. But before we get too happy, it should be noted that the Puerto Rico national team was away at the Pan Am Games at the time so the boxers our team faced were not their best. Some might question the reason for taking this trip at that particular time as there seemed little to gain. But maybe Dan Trepanier took the team to Puerto Rico to get some wins because that is something Canadian amateurs have been in short supply of lately.
The 2019 Balkan Cup saw three of our elite females competing. Not sure why Boxing Canada did not send more athletes to this event as many of the boxers could have used this tournament for some needed development. Leading the team was Carolyn Veyre and once again she showed us that she is a winner. She had three solid matches at the tournament, the first two unanimous wins where she simply out-boxed opponents from Hungary and Turkey. In the final Veyre lost a questionable split decision against the top-ranked Bulgarian. Ultimately it does not matter the final result here because she performed well and it’s clear she is on track and progressing.
Also competing was Sara Haghighat-Joo of Guelph, but she lost again. I have to wonder how her coach and husband Stevie Bailey feels about all of her mounting tally of defeats. Bailey had a thriving amateur stable of boxers but this past year and half he has transitioned them to the pros. His pros win; his wife does not. At what point are they going to give up and just turn her pro? The other boxer attending the Balkan Cup was Kaitlyn Clark from Sarnia, Ontario. This was her National Team debut but according to an awkwardly worded statement on Boxing Canada’s website, she failed to pass the medical. So much for her boxing career.
In September Mandy Bujold stepped back into the ring for her first international competition. The Silesian Cup was the event where Bujold would show Boxing Canada if she is indeed a contender. In her first bout, she defeated England but she lost in the final to Brazil. Bujold had beaten that particular Brazilian boxer before, so maybe she has some work to do in the gym.
Around the same time Winnipeg’s United Boxing Club hosted a dual competition between Canada and the Philippines. Spencer Wilcox fought a very seasoned boxer and lost both of his matches. Justin Parina and Irene Fiolek both won their first match but lost their second, while Phillip Motambo lost both of his bouts. Teammates Sara Haighighat-Joo and Junior Petaqui both won their only match.
The fall continued to be busy with both the men and women’s World Championships taking place in two separate cities in Russia. Representing our men are Thomas Blumenfeld at 63 kilograms, Eric Basran at 56 kg, and Wyatt Sandford at 69 kg. Blumenfeld won his first match against Wales but a head butt left him concussed and he was pulled from the tournament. Basran came up with unanimous wins against Armenia and Nicaragua before falling to Ireland’s Kurt Walker. Incidentally this is the same opponent that took Baran out at the Commonweatlh Games. Sanford was the big winner with decision victories over Moldovia and Hungary before being taken out by the top rated Russian. He finished in ninth place in the tournament.
Our women’s team competes in all of the weight classes except one, 51 kilograms, or bantamweight. It’s strange that with only five weight classes Boxing Canada opts to not send a full team, but Sara Haghighat-Joo’s lackluster year is hard to overlook and could be the reason she will be sitting this one out.
The four boxers attending the Worlds did reasonably well and brought home one medal. Tammara Thibeault beat Germany 5-0 and the USA 3-1 before losing 1-4 to top ranked Nouchka Fontijn of the Netherlands. Da Silva Rondeau lost her first match to Ireland. Fiolek also lost her first match but it was a very close 2-3 decision against the number one seeded boxer from TaiPei. Fiolek has shown steady improvement over the season and is becoming a strong contender. Veyre was the disappointment as no doubt Boxing Canada expected her to medal. She defeated Trinadad & Tobago in her first bout, but then fell 1-4 to a very awkward boxer from Uzbeckastan.
One thing is certain, Boxing Canada, and in particular Daniel Trepanier, will be faced with some tough decisions in the months ahead. The program is at a crossroads. Do we continue to send the older, experienced athletes who are not producing medals? Or do we go all in and invest in the future of our boxing program? — Steven Green