It was always going to be a tall order for Tammara Thibeault.
While the Canadian boxer came close, she ultimately fell to the experienced Nouchka Fontijn of the Netherlands in the women’s middleweight quarterfinal at the Tokyo Olympics on Saturday.
Fontijn, the Olympic vice-champion in 2016 in Rio and three-time silver medallist at the world championships, ended the the 24-year-old’s Olympic dream by unanimous decision after a close fight.
Fontijn came from behind after Thibeault won the first round to to earn four scores of 29-28 and one of 30-27.
“My opponent is a person with a lot of experience, she has been fighting at this level for a long time,” said Thibeault of the Dutch boxer with a 116-20 record on the international stage. “It was her experience that took over.”
Thibeault, a silver medallist at the last Pan Am Games and bronze medallist at the 2019 world championships and 2018 Commonwealth Games, got off to a good start. Playing aggressive, she landed several punches and kept her opponent at bay, executing the game plan established to challenge the 33-year-old Dutch boxer.
“The plan was to box from a distance and force her to come (towards me),” Thibeault said. “That’s what I did in the first round, but I wasn’t able to hold it until the end.”
Fontijn started to turn things around in the next round. She managed to defend Thibeault’s jabs and get closer to her opponent, scoring big points with precise punches.
It all came down to the third round. The boxer from Shawinigan, Que., was aggressive right off the bat, landing several good shots without any reply from Fontijn. But the Canadian was simply not able to maintain that pace. Fontijn gradually gained the upper hand and managed to land better shots.
“There was less distance between us in the second and third rounds,” said Thibeault, her right cheek swollen. “I also didn’t throw enough punches.”
“I have all the tools to make it through to the end. Today just wasn’t my day. ... I really thought I could beat her. I did not come here to make an appearance. I was here to win.”
Thibeault’s coach, Daniel Trepanier, felt it was a very close fight and believed the decision could have gone either way,
“We knew we had the first round and Fontijn had the second,” he said. “The third, that’s where it played out. We thought Tammara still had a chance to win with the performance she gave in the last round.
“We expected Fontijn to finish strong. She did that in her first fight (against Poland’s Elzbieta Wojcik). She lost the first round before coming from behind to win. We were convinced that we had what it took to go for the victory.”
Fontijn will now face world No. 1 and Tokyo middleweight favorite, Britain’s Lauren Price, in the semifinal.
For Thibeault, who has never hidden that her goal was to step onto the podium in Tokyo, the tournament leaves a bitter taste. She did not want to comment on her future in the sport, though she claimed several weeks ago that if she didn’t win gold in Tokyo, she would continue fighting until that goal was met.
“For now, I’m going to take a break,” she said on Saturday. “We’ve been in this Olympic cycle for five years and it’s not the end I wanted. There is nothing I can change now.”
However, she confirmed that she would be boxing at the next world championship in Kielce, Poland. The date of the event remains to be confirmed.
“I don’t know when the Worlds are going to be, but I’ll be there,” said the boxer with a 26-12 record.
Thibeault was the last of five Canadians left standing in boxing. Caroline Veyre was fifth in her 57-kilogram weight class. Myriam da Silva (69kg), Mandy Bujold (51kg) and Wyatt Sanford (69kg) all bowed out in their first fight.
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