Island boxers thriving at nationals with home-ring advantage

When asked about her ultimate objective, Terris Smith of the Island Boxing Club didn’t hesitate in replying: “Hopefully, fighting for Canada in the Olympics.”

There’s a lot of that optimism going around on the host B.C. team at the 2019 Super Channel Canadian championships, a key points qualifier for Tokyo 2020, and which began Tuesday in the Bear Mountain tennis bubble.

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Brandon Colantonio of Island Boxing got it started with an impressive unanimous decision over Matt Cooper of Ontario in the men’s 91-kilogram class.

“It was such a positive vibe with my family and clubmates behind me in support and cheering me on,” said the 23-year-old Colantonio.

“It was a tough, pressure fight but I used my range to advantage. I have the confidence and think I can win this championship.”

That’s what B.C. head coach Bob Pegues of Nanaimo loves to hear.

“We’ve broken records by sending our biggest team — 40 boxers — to the nationals this year,” said Pegues.

“I am predicting a record 15 gold medals for B.C.”

A number of those could be coming from Island boxers.

“Brandon [Colantonio] is the darkhorse and could be in the running for gold,” said Pegues.

“And Terris [Smith] is the dream girl who came out of nowhere.”

Smith was looking to take another step in her women’s 57-kilogram class, as the B.C. champion was fighting Nova Scotia-champion Holly Macdonald, in a first-round bout that took place after press deadline.

The 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics are the quest for the senior elite competitors from among the nearly 400 top amateur boxers, including juniors, from across the country who have gathered atop Bear Mountain this week. It’s a long qualification process. Being crowned Canadian champion in the year before the Olympics certainly doesn’t hurt anybody’s chances.

It’s been a whirlwind journey to this point for the 25-year-old Smith, who first stepped into the ring just to try it in a charity event.

“I really liked it and decided it’s something I wanted to pursue, so I’ve been training hard the last four years. I enjoy the technical aspects of training and the overall competitiveness of the sport.”

It takes her from day job to nightly jabs. The discrepency between Smith’s occupation as a Langford accountant, and what she does in the ring, couldn’t be more pronounced.

“They are both definitely at the complete opposite ends,” she said.

“Boxing is a good release from my day job.”

Tuesday was only Smith’s 10th competitive bout. Women’s boxing, introduced to the Olympics at London in 2012, is growing but bouts are still hard to find for female pugilists.

Smith is excited to be fighting in the Canadian nationals on, literally, home soil in Langford.

“It’s awesome to be competing at home with the support of my clubmates, family and friends,” said Smith.

The three Island Club boxers who have qualified for nationals are Smith, Colantonio and Anthony Varela.

“Our whole club has been really supportive and helped us three prepare for nationals,” said Smith.

Varela begins later in the week in the men’s 64-kilogram class. Provincial champions and runners-up qualify for nationals.

Two-time Canadian heavyweight-champion Bryan Colwell of Victoria, a leading candidate for the Canadian Olympic team to Tokyo 2020, has already been selected for the 2019 Lima Pan American Games and so does not need to fight this week at nationals. The leading B.C. candidates to represent Canada in Tokyo are Colwell, 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games bronze-medallist Eric Basran of Surrey and defending Canadian 69-kilogram champion Robert Couzens of Burnaby, the latter two will be fighting this week in their home province.

Meanwhile, wouldn’t it be something if the Canadian 2020 Tokyo Olympic berth in the 91-kilogram heavyweight class came down to Victoria boxers Colwell and Colantonio?

“At some point, Colwell and Colantonio will fight,” said Pegues, almost relishing the thought.

The boxing nationals continue today, Thursday and Friday with sessions at 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. The nationals conclude Saturday with the final session at 1 p.m.

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