GUADALAJARA, Mexico - Canadian boxer Mary Spencer had to wait until the championship bout before she was really tested at the Pan American Games.
When faced with an opponent who was truly in her class, she came through with flying colours.
Spencer became the first Canadian to win a Pan Am gold medal in women's boxing Friday night when she defeated Yenebier Guillen of the Dominican Republic 15-11 at the Expo Guadalajara Arena.
"It's just a reminder that I know how to win," Spencer said. "A lot of people know how to box and they know how to throw punches well and move well and do all that stuff right.
"But what I know how to do and what I've become almost an expert at over the last 10 years is winning. It's pulling off a win."
Women's boxing is making its debut at the Pan Am Games and will be held at the Olympics for the first time next year in London.
Spencer's win in the 75-kilogram category was Canada's second gold medal of the day. Earlier, Steven Jorens and Richard Dober Jr. also reached the top of the podium, winning the men's K2 1,000-metre race.
Canada also won five silver and seven bronze medals on Friday to boost its overall total to 110 medals (26 gold, 35 silver, 49 bronze). Canada sits fifth overall behind the United States (220), Brazil (128), Cuba (124) and Mexico (120).
However, Canada also lost a medal when wakeboarder Aaron Rathy tested positive for a banned substance.
The 23-year-old native of Nanaimo, B.C., was forced to return his silver medal after the stimulant methylhexaneamine was found in his system. Rathy apologized, blaming it on a supplement.
Spencer, from Windsor, Ont., breezed through her first two fights and started off strong against Guillen, opening with a flurry of punishing body shots that left her opponent stunned.
The five-foot-11 Canadian used her height and reach advantage to connect with jabs and gain the early upper hand, taking the opening round 5-3. She continued with her aggressive style for a 4-2 edge in the second round.
Guillen came out gunning in the third round and stunned Spencer with a sweeping right hand that brought the indifferent crowd to life in the 1,576-seat venue. The Dominican took the third round 2-1 before Spencer fought back to take the final round 5-4.
"I knew that I had the skills to win," Spencer said. "I just had to bring it out of me."
The packed house was lively and energetic throughout the evening although they didn't really have a favourite in the Spencer fight, the last bout on the six-fight card.
Many fans took photos with the Canadian champ after her victory. Spencer also left one young girl beaming when she gave her the plush toy mascot that she received during the medal ceremony.
Spencer has become the face of women's boxing in Canada. She has won national titles each year since 2004 and won her third world title in 2010 after moving up from the 66-kilo weight class.
Her ultimate goal is to win Canada's first Olympic boxing gold since Lennox Lewis in 1988. Next up is the national championships in January followed by the world championships — which serve as an Olympic qualifier — in March.
"I feel like when the time comes, I'll definitely be ready," Spencer said.
Meanwhile, Toronto's Jorens and Dober, from Cap-de-la-Madeleine, Que., won in three minutes 17.230 seconds, 1.928 seconds ahead of Cuba's Reinier Torres and Jorge Garcia. Argentina's Pablo De Torres and Roberto Geringer Sallette (3:19.599) took the bronze.
The victory earned Canada a spot in the event at the 2012 London Olympics.
"It's definitely an awesome feeling to win again," said Jorens. "We've been looking forward to this race since the world championships. We had a really great plan and we executed our race plan exactly.
"We are really excited, looking forward to training for next year."
Elsewhere at the Games, Canada's Emilie Fournel won silver in the women's K1 500-metre kayak race, while Philippe Duschesneau took bronze in the men's K1, 1,000-metre race.
Canada's women's water polo team settled for silver after losing to the United States 27-26 in a penalty shootout. Canada won a silver in fencing, losing to the United States in the men's team foil final.
Canada added three medals in gymnastics when Kristina Vaculik earned a silver in women's balance beam, Mikaela Gerber won silver in women's floor exercise, and Hugh Smith took bronze in the men's vault event.
The judo team turned in three bronze medals, with Joliane Melancon, Nick Tritton and Stefanie Tremblay each reaching the podium.
Canadian divers added to the medal haul as Edmonton's Eric Sehn and Winnipeg's Kevin Geyson earned the bronze medal in the men's synchronized 10-metre platform event. Canada's Sorin Alexandru also earned a bronze in the men's under-84 kilogram karate.
In water polo, Canada led 5-2 and 7-4 before the Americans rallied to tie the game at eight before the end of the fourth quarter. After two scoreless overtime periods, the U.S. won the shootout 19-18.
Calgary's Emily Jean Csikos led Canada with five goals, while Krystina Alogbo of Riviere-des-Prairies, Que., Joelle Bekhazi of Pointe-Claire, Que., and Dominique Perreault of Montreal added one each.
"We had a strong start," said Alogbo. "We swam stronger than them. However, it was our responsibility to not let them come back. We showed that we have a good team with a lot of character."
The loss cost Canada more than a gold medal. The Americans qualified directly for the London Games, while Canada will have to survive further qualifying next April in Italy for a shot at the Olympics.
Calgary's Anthony Prymack, Montreal's Etienne Lalonde-Turbide and Nicolas Teisseire of Boucherville, Que., won the silver medal in the men's team foil event, falling 45-35 to the Americans.
In kayaking, Fournel, from Dorval, Que., won silver in 1:54.900, just 0.657 seconds back of Carrie Ann Johnson of the U.S. for the gold. Argentina's Alexandra Keresztesi (1:55.765) was third.
"I knew I had to be aggressive from the beginning, but I also wanted to play a smart race and make sure I'd be able to go until the end," said Fournel. "I knew I gave it my all, but at the end of the day you want to pass the line first. It's great to come in second, but it’s better to win."
Duschesneau, from St-Denis-de-Brompton, Que., paddled to a time of 3:44.504, a day after picking up a silver with Dober, Jorens and Connor Taras of Waverley, N.S., in the men's K4 1,000.
"I was a bit nervous before the race because there were two false starts, so that kinds of pumps up the anxiety for everyone, but overall I had a good start," Duschesneau said. "It's the first medal I've won internationally, so I'm really happy with how it went."
Garcia took gold with a time of 3:41.257, while Argentina's Daniel Dal Bo won silver in 3:43.038.
Vaculik, from Whitby, Ont., finished the balance beam event with a score of 13.925. Guatemala's Ana Sofia Gomez took gold with 14.175 points, while Daniele Hypolito of Brazil (13.750) settled for bronze.
"I'm really happy with my performance today," said Vaculik. "After today I'm just go back to the gym, improve some things and get ready for London."
Gerber, from Cambridge, Ont., finished second in the floor exercise with a score of 13.775 behind Ana Lago of Mexico (13.800). Brazil's Hypolito won her second bronze 13.750 points.
Competing last in the floor final, Gerber's result dropped Vaculik from third to fourth.
"You never like to kick your own teammate out of a medal but I just went out and competed and let things turn out the way they did," said Gerber.
"I like competing last. You know how the other gymnasts have done and it's fun."
In the men's vault, Smith, from Sackville, N.S., scored 15.575 to finish behind first-place Diego Hypolito of Brazil (15.875) and Chile's Enrique Tomas Gonzalez (15.587).
"I've been training for this day for so long and it turned out fantastic," said Smith, whose mother is Mexican and was cheered on by family and friends in the stands.
"I did OK in the all around the other day but vault is the event where I was really going for a medal," he said. "I knew I needed to hit both vaults clean and land on my feet and I did."
In karate, Alexandru, from Lachine, Que., won bronze after losing 3-0 in a semifinal to Venezuela's Cesar Herrera.
"This is one of the best results of my career, and it feels amazing," said Alexandru. "I am really happy to have won a medal for Canada."
In judo, Melancon, from Blainville, Que., won bronze in the women's under-57 kilogram division, while Tremblay, from Chicoutimi, Que., earned a bronze in the women's under-63 kilogram competition.
Tritton, from Guelph, Ont., made it three bronze medals with a podium finish in the men's under-73 kilogram division.
Mandy Bujold of Kitchener, Ont., will try to make it back-to-back gold medals in women's boxing on Saturday. She will take on Ingrit Valencia of Colombia for the 51-kilo title.