El-Mais wins boxing gold, Fortin takes silver at Commonwealth Games
Saturday, Aug 02, 2014 05:30 pm
GLASGOW, Scotland - Ariane Fortin matched the defending world champion virtually blow for blow Saturday night at the Commonwealth Games, eventually losing the gold medal to Savannah Marshall of England in a split decision.
But the fact the Canadian was back fighting in an international ring was remarkable in itself.
Finally, she said, she was back where she belonged.
"Oh totally. Totally," Fortin said, smiling.
Samir El-Mais won gold at 91 kilograms to cap a two-medal night for Canada. The 33-year-old from Windsor, Ont., defeated David Light of New Zealand, also in a split decision, for Canada's first Commonwealth boxing gold since 2002.
It was an historic performance for both Fortin and teammate Mandy Bujold, as women's boxing made its Commonwealth debut. Bujold, from Kitchener, Ont., had captured bronze at 51 kilograms a night earlier.
Fortin's narrow loss at 75 kilograms was regardless a triumphant return to the ring for the 29-year-old from St. Nicholas, Que. The two-time world champion suffered a heartbreaking loss to friend-turned-rival Mary Spencer for a spot on the 2012 London Olympic team.
The longtime friends were forced to fight against each other for the first time after women's boxing was added to the Olympic schedule for London — but with only three of the eight weight classes. They were forced to face off at 75 kilos, and their heated battle for an Olympic berth was chronicled in the documentary "Last Woman Standing."
Fortin lost her spot on the national team, as well as the majority of her funding. But she kept training in her Quebec gym, arranging her own fights. She eventually defeated Spencer twice to earn back her spot on the national team.
"I worked really really really hard, I didn't stop training during those years," Fortin said.
That was clear Saturday night, when Fortin took it to the world champion, who she'd been eager to fight for awhile. Fortin was the aggressor, which was part of the plan.
"What she does really well, she keeps a distance really well with her jab, she has good feet movement," Fortin explained. "That's why I had to be on her, pressure her."
The loss, though, left her with "a lot of mixed feelings."
"I'm really disappointed. But it's not all negative," she said. "I am disappointed, I'm hard on myself, I can be devastated. But I'm proud of myself anyway.
"It's hard to say right now, because I just lost. . . maybe I will be (happier) in one day, two days."
The addition of women's boxing to the Commonwealth Games comes after the sport also made its Pan American Games debut in 2011 in Guadalajara, Mexico.
"I think it's amazing for this sport, being a part of these big Games really helps the sport develop, it helps the level to rise, it's only positive really," Fortin said. "We get exposure, it can only be good for the sport, I'm really happy."
Fortin laughed, though, when asked if she feels like an inspiration to young girls who might follow in her footsteps.
"I guess I am, I try to be, I try to be a good model and a good example," Fortin said. "My story with Mary, I never gave up. I always tried to keep working hard and it's paying now. I think that's a good example."
Canada meanwhile added to its medal haul with a silver and three bronze.
Jennifer Abel of Laval, Que., took silver in women's three-metre springboard. Mo Zhang of Richmond, B.C., and Anqi Luo of Mississauga, Ont., won bronze in women's doubles table tennis, Vincent Riendeau of Point-Claire, Que., finished third in men's 10-metre platform diving and Alysha Newman of Delaware, Ont., earned bronze in pole vault.
Canada enters the final day of the tournament third in the medal standings at 81 (31 gold, 16 silver, 34 bronze) behind England (165) and Australia (132).
El-Mais, meanwhile, came out of retirement in 2010 and hasn't lost a fight in Canada since.
Dabbing at his bloody nose while talking to reporters, El-Mais said the victory still "hasn't hit me yet. But I've always wanted to win (gold).
"And 10,000, 12,000 people are here, it's huge, I've never fought in front of a crowd like this, it was loud. Great entrance, great drama, great atmosphere, loved every second of it, every punch, every blow. It was a success in the end."
Like virtually every other venue at these Games, the 13,000-seat SSE Hydro — normally a concert hall — was jam-packed. Music blasted, the night opening with Europe's "The Final Countdown."
El-Mais is a native of the United Arab Emirates, and moved to Windsor with his family about 20 years ago from Lebanon.
He finished fifth at the 2010 Commonwealth Games in New Delhi, and was intent on making up for that disappointment in Scotland.
"Glad to remake history," El-Mais said, pausing to dabbing at the steady dripping of blood from his nose. "I don't know if it was the hype or what, the concentration, but I wasn't all there (in 2010).
"We're here now and I'm remaking mistakes, I'm redoing my mistakes and making them right."
El-Mais said it wasn't easy to step into the ring four times this week and fight without headgear — the lack of which became a buzz story at these Games.
The International Boxing Association (AIBA) decided to stop using headgear in events such as the Commonwealth Games last year, citing medical statistics showing the protective padding can cause jarring to boxers' heads and contribute to brain damage.
Some trainers and boxers called for headgear to be reintroduced, however, due to the gruelling schedule of bouts in events as short as these Games.
"I'm loving it, I'm loving it," El-Mais said, grinning. "I think it's a success. I know there's going to be a lot of injuries, cuts, but every fighter before they start fighting, they know what they're going into."
Women still box in headgear in international competitions.