It began with cheering teammates, waving flags, enthusiasm born of high expectations. Canada always wins medals in Olympic boxing, and it seemed sure to win a couple here.
It ended, Wednesday afternoon, all too quietly. If any of Art Binkowski's teammates (besides Troy Ross) were in attendance at the Sydney Exhibition Centre, they remained undercover. And as the Kitchener-based super heavyweight lost decisively to Uzebekistan's Rustam Saidov -- the fight was stopped on the 15-point rule 13 seconds before the end of the second round, with Binkowski trailing 17-2 -- the greatest streak in Canadian amateur sport ended with a whimper.
Shawn O'Sullivan. Willie de Wit. Dale Walters. Lennox Lewis. Egerton Marcus. Raymond Downey. Chris Johnson. Mark Leduc. David Defiagbon.
It's an unbroken line stretching to 1984 -- at least one boxing medal in every Olympic Games since Los Angeles.
The line was severed here with a team that had become deeply divided, that had its confidence shattered, that had lost faith in its administrators and coaches, that was made up of fighters none of whom seem to have any interest in continuing in the sport for another four years.
It is a fact that by simply qualifying seven fighters for the Sydney Olympics, Canada did exceptionally well. The process of getting here has become far more difficult, the 10-- and 11-fighter teams of the past will likely never happen again. Other, bigger, more committed countries -- Britain, for instance, which sent only two boxers here -- didn't do nearly as well as Canada.
It's also a fact that the majority of the Canadian team achieved what assistant coach Wayne Gordon described as goal No. 1 in Sydney: Don't lose to anyone who isn't as good as you.
Donald Orr, in his first Olympics, had never faced a southpaw before -- he lost to one in the first round. Andrew Kooner, the baby of the team, won his first fight, then dropped the second to a clever, experienced Thai fighter who looks bound for a medal.
Scott McIntosh made it to the second round before losing bravely to an American. Binkowski, who probably has the least natural ability of any of them, won his first fight, and though he lost decisively to Saidov at least wasn't backing down.
"This guy came out throwing girlish punches," he said, blood streaming down his face from a cut on the bridge of his nose. "And to tell you the truth, I don't think half of them were scoring."
That leaves Michael Strange, who got a terrible draw, and perhaps was a bit past it in these, his third Olympics; Mark Simmons, who suffered something akin to a panic attack before his second-round fight, with a medal in sight; and especially Troy Ross, who benefited both from a fortunate draw, and from his exceptional talent.
"Troy's loss was a shocker," Canadian Amateur Boxing Association president Hank Summers said, referring to how Ross was stopped by Nigeria's Jegbefumere Albert in his first fight, after failing to persuade the referee that he was fit to continue after a knockdown. "He was up against a Nigerian that we just wrote off. We thought that he was a stepping stone." "What happened to Troy," Gordon said, "took the wind out of our sails."
It especially seemed to affect his close friend Simmons, who was in a terrible state before his bout Tuesday against Germany's Sebastian Kober, a fight he lost 16-1.
"He beat himself," Binkowski said. "The bottom line was, he beat himself."
Behind the scenes, there was tension among the fighters. Kooner -- whose teammate Adam Trupash lost to Strange on a foul in the Canadian trials -- said that he wasn't planning on sticking around for another Games. "I'm not going to be another Mike Strange," he said, pointedly. Binkowski, yesterday, compared himself to Simmons several times: "He showed up for his fight and he just froze. I never froze."
Combine that with the usual coaching rivalries, exacerbated by the fact that Canada came not with a head coach, but with three assistant coaches, none of whom seemed to carry real authority. By the time the dust cleared, every fighter except Orr had his personal coach in his corner, including Simmons's and Ross's coach Dewith Frazer, who had originally not been invited. A mess, in other words. And now, like virtually every other part of the Olympic team, amateur boxing is in for a period of self-examination and analysis and change.
"We're going to have to look at our entire program and see what went wrong," Summers said.
Even before that process begins, Frazer is offering a suggestion.
"The solution is to relieve the people in charge," he said. "Boxing has decayed under them."