Canada's first-ever female Olympic boxer, Mary Spencer, at the punching bag:video
For middleweight boxer Mary Spencer, Canada's only female hopeful in the London Olympics, the pressure is enormous. This year will mark the first ever Olympic Games in which women have been allowed to compete in boxing, and Spencer has the chance to make history.
Today, Spencer is just one win from a medal. She drew a bye, meaning she must win just one bout to be guaranteed at least a bronze medal.
Team Canada London Olympics Boxing Training
Rooney's Gym, tucked beneath a railway overpass near London's iconic Tower Bridge might not be the most likely of training venues for the Canadian Olympic boxing team. But Daniel Trepanier, Boxing Canada's high performance director, wanted to find a place where his athletes could focus on preparing for the competition ahead. "It's good to go outside of the village. Here, it feels like real boxing."
Spencer said she and the rest of the team have benefited from their off-the-beaten track training venue.
“Training in a spot like this reminds us that it's just boxing. We feel at home here. We're just in a crummy gym and it feels really comfortable. We don't feel like we're at the Olympics. It's no wonder Trepanier wanted to find a spot for his three-member team to focus. It will be the first Olympics for welterweight Custio Clayton and super heavyweight Simon Kean.
"I wanted to make sure that Mary was focused on getting ready and not getting distracted by media," Trepanier said.
Video of Team Canada London Olympics boxing practice by Emily Barca
Spencer is already in a good position having drawn a bye on Friday – meaning that she must only win one bout to be guaranteed at least a bronze medal.
The winners of the semi-final marches are given bronze medals, rather than fighting in the ring. Depending on the outcome of the first round, Spencer will compete against either the Chinese fighter Jinzi Li or Brazilian Roseli Feitosa.
"We're feeling pretty confident," Trepanier said during training. "We'll get ready for either [the Chinese boxer or the Brazilian boxer]."
Spencer, who along with teammates Custio Clayton and Simon Kean, were busy getting in a training session at the gym on Saturday, echoed Trepanier's confidence.
"I'm completely ready. I was just telling my coaches that timing is perfect. I'm feeling that peak. I'm looking forward to fighting. This last week I've been tapering, and I'm going to be even more ready when it comes time to go to the ring."
A crack in the facade?
Despite feeling "confident", Trepanier's decision to hold his team's training sessions away from the Olympic village raises the question of whether the team was lacking focus.
Trepanier admitted that before the 2012 London Olympics, Spencer hadn't been performing as well as expected, having lost a crucial fight that would have allowed her to qualify. But she got lucky and won a wild card spot in the games.
Trepanier wanted to make sure Spencer was ready. Before the Olympics, he arranged a match for her against the German champion.
“It went very well, and now Mary is really focused about what she has to do," he said. "Losing in Beijing was a good wake-up call. I think now that she's not number one she's more angry than ever."
Twice-lucky Spencer admitted that waiting for the draw was a "weird feeling."
"The draw is huge for anybody," she said.
"There's so many different variations that can happen in a draw. After that first initial weigh-in every boxer is...just waiting. It's a weird feeling.
"I feel like I got an amazing draw. You really have to put yourself in a place where it doesn't matter so that you're not afraid to get the draw. I did, but when I got that news it was still very good news."
Come-back from Beijing
For Canada's Olympic boxing team, the 2012 London Olympics is a chance to prove that they have come back from a disappointing showing four years ago in Beijing when Adam Trupish, Canada's only boxer, was taken out in his first fight.
Trepanier is confident that Clayton and Kean will also have a good showing at the Olympics.
"I think that Custio has a really good chance of moving on. Custio is ready for anybody. He is able to win against anybody here. It's probably the toughest weight division at the Olympics – from the last one to the top one there's not a big margin."
Custio's teammate Simon Kean has suffered several injuries in recent years - including a severe leg injury on a motorcycle which almost led to amputation.
But Trepanier is nevertheless confident in his fighter.
"At this weight, he's really strong," he said.
"You never know. He could surprise a lot of people."