The Crowded Road To Tokyo

Is it just me, or does there seem to be a lot of amateur boxers in Canada claiming to be Tokyo 2020 bound? What strikes me as odd is that some aren’t even in the right age or weight category. Heck, some of them aren’t even members of the national team.

The International Olympic Committee recently announced that the International Boxing Association, or AIBA, would no longer be the governing body running amateur boxing at the Olympics Games. Instead, those duties will be passed on to an organization yet to be named. This means the upcoming World Championships tournament is no longer a qualifying event and actual qualifiers have yet to be named. So, until those events happen, the question of who will be representing Canada at the Olympics remains a mystery.

On the men’s side, the only real hopefuls are light welterweight Thomas Blumenfeld and bantamweight Eric Basran, as both are undeniably talented. Blumenfeld is small for his weight class, but he doesn’t let that hold him back. As for Basran, if you like blood-and-guts wars, he is not your guy. Instead, he likes to move and avoid punches, which is not a bad strategy when you think about it. Fan or not, Basran showed what he’s capable of when he beat one of the top Cubans at a recent tournament in the Czech Republic.

Eric Basran

Spencer Wilcox of Ontario is the wildcard. He’s the current lightweight national champion, and he’s been gaining momentum with a couple of recent tournament wins, most recently England’s Haringey Cup. But if the lightweight (60 kilogram) class is dropped from Olympic programming, what are his options? A move down to the newly proposed 57 kg division seems improbable as he is already quite lean, and a move up to 64 kg, or light welterweight, seems like a longshot. So, what’s a young prospect to do? His brothers all box professionally so that could be an option. Or will the lure of Olympic Gold be strong enough to keep him around until 2024?

Spencer Wilcox

On the women’s side, things are equally unclear. Canada has produced some very respectable boxers, but this current elite team is not going to be carrying on that legacy. In the flyweight division (51 kg) we have this year’s Nationals Champion Audrey Bernier, along with her teammate Sara Haghighat-Joo, and the wild card, Mandy Bujold.

Bujold, a master at social media, announced she will be going to the Games, despite having fought just once since the 2018 Continental Championships. In early June, Bujold fought a relative newcomer to the sport, Sereena Nahmabin, a bantamweight silver medalist at the nationals. Bujold made quite a fuss on social media about her first win back but, if a former Olympian has to brag about beating an opponent with 20 bouts, something is seriously wrong.

Sara Haghighat-Joo

The match-up people really want to see is between Bujold and her former training partner, Sara Haighighat-Joo. According to Sara’s social media, she has over a hundred bouts to her credit, but her notable results listed on Boxing Canada’s website are pretty thin, thus making her chances of qualifying for Tokyo unlikely. But just as unlikely is Bujold’s ability to transform herself back into an international level boxer from the comfort of her home gym.

Then there is the battle for the featherweight (57 kg) division which features Sabrina Aubin and Caroline Veyre, both from Quebec. Veyre made a bold move this year and dropped back down to featherweight. While she had done well internationally at the higher weight, what’s kept her from the podium is her size. On the other hand, Sabrina Aubin has been on the team for many years but has made less of an impression on the international scene. Former training partners, the pair fought once before at the Olympics Qualifier, and while Veyre won, it’s the next duel that counts, and that’s the one people want to see.

Caroline Veyre

The light middleweight (69 kg) division is crowded with contenders, but quantity is not quality and in truth there isn’t much there. At the National Championships this division made for some exciting bouts, but internationally, I don’t think any of them has a chance. Myriam da Silva, the former Boxe Montreal athlete and now an INS centralized team member, has had limited success internationally. She can be hard-hitting and aggressive, but too often seems timid and hesitant.

Sara Kali, who moved up from light welterweight and took the national title at 69 kg has a history of not competing often enough, and that’s what will hold her back from being more than a Canadian champion. On the horizon is last year’s Youth World Champion, Charlie Cavanaugh, but judging by her performance at Nationals she has a lot of work to do if she wants to hang with the big girls. That being said, if she keeps at it, she could someday be a force to be reckoned with.

Tamara Thibeault (right) battles Lauren Price at the Commonwealth Games.

The middleweight (75 kg) spot appears to belong to Tamara Thibeault. She has all the makings of a star with good height and reach, plus she is a southpaw with an awkward style. She performed well at the recent Pan American Games qualifier in Nicaragua, and if she stays focused, she should win gold later this summer at the Pan Am Games. She also posted a minor victory when she fought and beat former Canadian boxing superstar, Mary Spencer. What Spencer is doing back in the ring is anyone’s guess. Maybe, like Bujold, she feels like she has unfinished business with the Olympic Games, but the road to the Olympics is a crowded one and time is never on your side in boxing.

— Steven Green 

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