SEARCH 2000 Games

Monday, August 14, 2000

Our boxers look hungry because they really are

  Welcome to another edition of Lifestyles of the Broke and Famished: Stories of Canadian amateur athletes.

 Prior to the 1988 Seoul Olympics, current world heavyweight boxing champion Lennox Lewis told a Toronto sports writer that he was hungry all the time because the money wasn't there to buy enough food.

 Mark Simmons, who heads to the Sydney Games next month as Canada's heavyweight boxer, understands what Large Len went through -- even though old Lennox is now a millionaire a gazillion times over now.

 In the past few years, Simmons has spent his days studying for a kinesiology degree at York University, training at two gyms -- the Jamestown in Brampton and the Jewish Community Centre in downtown Toronto -- and working at the LCBO store at Dundas and Jane. And worrying about money.

 Even though the Commonwealth Games gold medallist is a carded athlete and receives a few hundred a month from Ottawa, he's always broke and looking for ways to supplement his fabulously modest lifestyle.

 Most of the guys he'll face Down Under, including two-time Olympic champion Felix Savon of Cuba, don't have to work. They train three times a day, then rest and recharge. Simmons also trains three times daily, but then trudges off to work to earn a few bucks for training, travel, equipment, coaching and physiotherapy.

 It's all very taxing.

 He also is constantly searching for sponsors, and while he has a couple of minor deals for which he is grateful to Kodak and McAsphalt, it's not enough. Simmons is an easy-going guy, but you can see the frustration in his face when he discusses his financial situation.

 The real kick in the teeth is that all his financial problems could be eradicated with a stroke of the pen -- an amateur contract. But he can't, in good conscience, go that route.

 Simmons is one of the top amateur heavyweights in the world, a complete boxer with a great punch. He also is an articulate, good-looking, strapping young guy, with the skin pigmentation that professional promoters like (an unfortunate statement about the world of prize fighting).

 A few of the top U.S. promoters, including Lou Duva and Shelly Finkel, have courted Simmons. Some have offered him an amateur contract, wherein they throw him some financial perks in exchange for having first dibs after he turns pro. Many amateurs have gone for it. Simmons won't, even though he needs the money.

 "Apparently it's all legal and everything, but I just don't want to be put in an awkward situation after the Olympics," Simmons said. "I don't want to be put in a position where these people are expecting something from me. I don't want to owe anything to anyone."

 Simmons, 26, is fully aware that professional boxing -- and this is not a news flash -- can be a very sleazy business. Still, it's frustrating to know the money is there, but he can't touch any. If this kid happens to do well in Australia though, his phone will not stop ringing. And don't be surprised if he goes the Lennox Lewis route -- turning pro in England. Simmons' parents are both from the Britain and the game is much more lucrative over there than it is in Canada.

 SUMMER CAMP: Many Canadian teams will hold final training camps before heading to Sydney. The swimmers are going to the northern Australian town of Cairns, where they've sort of been adopted by the townspeople. The track and field team is going to beautiful Couran Cove, near Brisbane, on the Gold Coast. The rowers and paddlers have headed Down Under. The boxers are in Panorama, B.C. and travel to one last camp in Hawaii. Needless to say, most of the boys are not complaining about that camp the way they did about a recent camp in northern Ontario.

 "They won't say this time that the Canadian Amateur Boxing Association is a fascist dictatorship," CABA technical director Matt Mizerski said.

 But it won't be all hula dancing and sun bathing for the bash boys. The camp is being held on a remote U.S. Marine Base.

 "When pro boxers go to camp, they go for eight weeks and they don't chase girls or get drunk." Mizerski said. "Camps are supposed to be about work and rest -- that's it."

 Meanwhile, back in B.C., team captain Mike Strange called The Toronto Sun on his cell phone from the top of a mountain, with this message: "Call the hotel and see if you can get a helicopter to pick us up. I feel like I'm in the movie Alive. I'm going to have to start eating Mark (Simmons) soon."