Skip to main content
Original Issue

A Road Least Traveled

No Canadian has gone to the victory stand for an Olympic boxing gold medal since '32, but Toronto's Shawn O'Sullivan and Willie deWit, a son of the plains, should alter that

The savage in man is never quite eradicated.

They stand with boyish grins in the wings of boxing's largest amateur stage, two handsome blond Canadians with fearless blue eyes who have measured the world carefully. They carry their knowledge as though it were a secret, hiding it behind soft words and refined manners, and only the tiger in their eyes betrays them.

That Willie deWit, 23, and Shawn O'Sullivan, 22, stand to the same national anthem dictates that they will also share the same page of Olympic history if they both, as they're favored to do, win the gold medals in their classes: deWit as a heavyweight, O'Sullivan as a light middleweight. Despite their difference in size, they are as alike in the ring as a pair of chain saws biting through soft pine. And after the Aug. 11 finals in the Los Angeles Sports Arena, they could be to professional boxing what Cassius Clay/Muhammad Ali was after the 1960 Games, and what Sugar Ray Leonard was after the '76 Olympics.

"They could open the door to Fort Knox," declares promoter Don King, who, along with every other manager and promoter in the world, covets the charismatic pair. "In today's world, a white heavyweight who can punch like deWit alone could be a gold mine. Having the two of them, that would be like having a license to print money."

Canada hasn't won an Olympic gold medal in boxing since Horace Gwynne was the 119-pound titlist at the 1932 Games in Los Angeles. That now, after 52 years, Canada has a solid chance for two is indeed surprising, but what's truly astonishing is that the biography of each of the lads should begin, well, "Once upon a time...."

As in:...there was a tall slender boy named Willie deWit who was taught to box by a transplanted dentist from Lake Charles, La. in, among other places, the dentist's garage in Grande Prairie, Alberta. For three years his only sparring partner was a heavy bag. The boy's mother was born Christina Van Dyk in Veenendaal, the Netherlands, and moved with her family to Canada when she was 13. His father, Len, is also Dutch, born in Woerden, and when he was 21 he decided to pass through Canada on his way to Australia. He has been passing through since 1953.

And:...there was a skinny boy named Shawn O'Sullivan who first learned boxing under his father, Michael, a Toronto bus driver who reads quotations from Bartlett's at work when he isn't actually driving. His next teacher, a member of the Toronto police department, a specialist in defusing bombs, trains boxers in an ancient warehouse in a tough Toronto neighborhood called Cabbage-town. The boy's mother, born Margaret Mary Dillon, is a first-generation Canadian with roots buried deep in County Antrim, Ireland. The father was born in Bantry, County Cork, and in 1948, after returning home following three years with the British police force in Palestine, he left home again to become a London bobby. Along the way he found himself on a ship bound for Ontario, and he, too, decided to remain in Canada.

Len deWit, who was unable to speak a word of English when he arrived in western Canada, found work operating a gravel crusher in Grande Prairie (pop. 24,263) where the deWits now live. "I think maybe if I hadn't had so much pride, I would have gone home," he says, in his heavy accent, "but I'm not that way. My father always told me, and I tell Willie the same thing, you work hard and you never fail. Make up your mind you are going to do it, and you'll get it done."

Shortly after Len arrived in Canada, he struck up a friendship with Jake Van Dyk, a construction worker he met on a job. Van Dyk introduced him to his sister, Christina, who was 15. "I told Jake then," Len says, "someday I am going to marry your sister. He just laughed." They were married seven years later, in 1960. "Sometimes I am a patient man," Len says, laughing.

Willie, who was born on June 13, 1961, was 17 when he lost patience with his high school football teammates. An all-star quarterback, he'd been offered a scholarship to the University of Alberta. He was then 6'1" and weighed 175 pounds, 45 more than the year before. "I kind of got sick of team sports," he says. "I got tired of busting my ass while the guy next to me was just fooling around. I wanted to control my own destiny."

He began going to a Grande Prairie health club, which was run by a man named Jim Murrie. Len was seriously ill—terminally so, the doctors said at the time—with a brain tumor, and Christina now says that she sent Willie to the gym to get him out of her hair. "I don't know where she gets that from," says Willie, grinning and shaking his large head. "I guess she told me that once. There wasn't much I could do there. I started hitting the heavy bags just to stay in shape."

Murrie watched Willie with growing interest, and then in February 1979 he began making calls to Dr. Harry Snatic, a dentist and rancher who had been a youth boxing coach in Louisiana before moving his family in 1971 to Beaverlodge—a small village near Grande Prairie. "I kept telling Murrie no, I didn't want to handle him," said Snatic, who was then 38 years old. "I told him that my wife said there was no way I was getting involved with a 17-year-old who was just starting to go out with girls. And then I went to see Willie.

"Willie was a light heavyweight then, but hell, he was still growing. There was something I saw in him. I don't know what creates relationships, but there's a chemistry that seemed to work between us. He impressed me with his dedication." They began working together three times a week, first in the health club, until it went out of business a short time later, and then in the deWits' unheated garage. Some days Willie worked out in temperatures that were 10 or 20 degrees below zero.

"I said to hell with this," says Snatic, who proceeded to set up a gym over a garage he had built for his trucking business in Beaverlodge. But soon diesel fumes from the trucks drove Willie and Snatic from the garage. By then Snatic, who built another gym in a shed behind his home, had begun to suspect that he might have someone special.

"About four weeks after Willie and I started, we were doing the basics, and he was hitting the heavy bag and working with me with pads," Snatic says. "But it wasn't leading anywhere. Finally I told him, 'Willie, you and I can train here forever. But if you don't have a fight, you'll never really know if you like it or not. So, let's fight.' "

The only competition Snatic could find were the Alberta provincial championships, which were being held in March 1979 in a town called Medicine Hat. Snatic entered deWit in the light heavyweight intermediate novice division for boxers age 17 to 20 with less than 10 fights. "Damn," Snatic says. "I wanted to see what he had. I did—for about 20 seconds. That's how long it took him to knock out his first opponent. There were six other fighters entered in Willie's division, and before he was out of the ring their coaches had pulled them all. He had won his first championship in 20 seconds, which really didn't tell us a hell of a lot."

Looking for a sterner test, Snatic entered Willie in the British Columbia Golden Glove championships. He was matched with Shane Anderson, 18, the western Canadian 178-pound champion and a veteran of about 40 fights. Anderson needed all of his experience to win a decision.

"I hit him with a good shot in the second round but I couldn't drop him," says Willie, his voice suggesting he is still upset with his first failure. "He just had too much experience for me. That fight showed Harry that I had some heart."

After the loss, Willie cried in his dressing room. But he did beat Anderson in two of three return matches. In the last of those bouts, Willie knocked out Anderson, who never fought again.

Still testing, Snatic took Willie to fight at the Washington State Penitentiary. He figured that if anything would shake his young fighter, facing a convict on the con's home turf would be it.

Before the fight, an inmate pulled Snatic aside. "That your fighter?" the guy asked. When Snatic nodded, the con warned, "Tell him to stay away from this guy. He's a real animal."

In the opening minute of the first round, Willie dropped the animal with a straight right. The referee was a novice, and after he finished counting to eight, he let Willie move in too quickly. This time the convict was belted through the ropes.

"We damn near had a riot," Snatic says. "It's Willie's fifth fight, he hadn't had one second of sparring, and they're accusing me of bringing in a pro. The inmates are yelling for blood. And their boxing coach, another inmate, is in the ring screaming in my face. I finally convinced them—I think. At least we got out of the place."

A small wiry man with a strong love for the written word, providing that it was penned by the likes of Thoreau or Emerson or Hawthorne, Michael O'Sullivan arrived in Toronto content that whatever he earned, it would more than cover his needs. "There's no doubt in it," he says in a voice that still wouldn't be out of place on the streets of Bantry, "money and possessions don't bring happiness. Remember Diogenes: He drank out of a wooden bowl and that's all he had in the world. But one day he saw a small boy drinking with his cupped hands, so he got rid of the wooden bowl. Then all he needed were his cupped hands."

Born in 1922, the second-oldest son in a family of nine children, O'Sullivan left home when he was 19. It was a departure predestined by his birth. "I had four brothers and four sisters, and we lived on a farm," he says. "But there's only a living for one person on the farm, and the others have to leave and make out for themselves."

He became a bricklayer in Dublin for three years, then came those three as a policeman in Palestine. When the British mandate ended in 1948, he returned to Dublin, where he found he was automatically qualified for the London Metropolitan Police. He was only required to pass a police physical.

"I was walking down a street in London heading for the depot when I saw Ontario House," he says. "There was a sign that said: WANTED, YOUNG MEN AND WOMEN IN CANADA. I went in," he remembers with some amusement. "I asked a few questions and they said, 'Why don't you fill out an application?' So I did. Then they said, 'Why don't you take a medical?'—and, lo and behold, they had me all set to go to Canada. I had no more notion of going to Canada then than I have of going to Timbuktu this very minute."

O'Sullivan arrived in Toronto in November 1948. The following year he went to work for the Toronto Transit Commission, and not much later he met Margaret Mary at a dance. They were married in 1952. "And things have worked out well," he says. "I'm glad I traveled this road. We have five boys and a girl."

Of the five O'Sullivan brothers, four—Michael Jr., 30, Brian, 28, Kevin, 26, and Gerald, 25—are older than Shawn, as is his twin sister, Maureen, who was born five minutes before he was, on May 9, 1962. Michael Sr. had fought as an amateur in Palestine, and he was hardly settled in Toronto before he began working out in the ring at the West End YMCA. As each of his sons grew strong enough to put on a pair of battered old boxing gloves, he introduced the lad to the manly art of self-defense.

Says Michael Sr.: "Some people say, why box? I remember what Robert Frost wrote: 'Why did you go this road?' And he answered: 'Well, there were two roads leading into the woods and I took the one least traveled.' It's a road least traveled, boxing is. All my boys had a few bouts in the city championships, but I was surprised when Shawn won the Ontario-Quebec Golden Gloves championship in 1978. Then he moved on from there to the Canadian championships. And it has gone on and on from there—he's won several Canadian titles and two world championships. He beat the Russian Aleksandr Koshkin in Reno in '83, and it's gone on and on. Oh, no, I never thought it would go this far."

It's hard for Shawn to remember a time when one of his brothers wasn't sparring with his father in or around the house. "Dad had an old pair of gloves and they got a lot of use," he says in a voice that could have come out of Bantry, too. "Sometimes my brothers would enter the city championships. But boxing in the late '60s and early '70s was very disorganized in Toronto. Michael was the oldest, and when he was 15 he started drifting away from the sport. Then it sort of filtered down to Brian to Kevin to Gerald and then to me."

When Shawn was 15 and had been working out for several months, his father, tattered gloves in hand, said, one summer afternoon, "Well, let's go see how strong you are now." That one sparring session between father, who was then 48 years old, and youngest son led to a second, and soon they fell into a daily routine. Shawn remembers it as one of the happiest summers of his young life.

"We boxed all summer, and I enjoyed it," he says. "I'd wait for my dad to get home from work at night. We'd box and go running. It was fun to talk to him a lot, and just to be with him. At the end of the summer, he said to me, 'Maybe you should train with guys your own age and maybe get a coach and see what happens.' "

They tried several places, the Community Center, the West End YMCA, but none offered a proper boxing program. Then one day the father chanced upon a newspaper article about John Raftery, a 139-pounder from Ontario, who had just won a gold medal at a competition in Finland. Raftery, the paper reported, was trained by Peter Wylie, a bomb disposal expert, at the Cabbagetown Youth Centre.

Wylie, who at the age of 18 became an amateur boxer—he won 11 of his 13 bouts—joined the Toronto police force in 1967 when he was 21. His love for the sport endured, and even after he got his badge, he kept fighting. When his name appeared in the newspapers after an exhibition bout in 1968, he was called in by the inspectors in charge of his division. They gave him a choice: He could stay on the force or in the ring, but he couldn't do both. Wylie chose the force.

In the fall of 1972, Wylie's wife, Jacqueline, said to him: "Peter, you're bringing your work home. You should really get a hobby, something on the side to keep you busy."

Shortly thereafter, Wylie ran into a former boxing acquaintance, Cliff Beverly, on a subway platform. Beverly said he'd located a place downtown and was thinking of setting up a gym. He invited Wylie to come and have a look. "I'll run by and try and give you a few ideas," Wylie said.

The prospective gym turned out to be a ramshackle warehouse on Lancaster Avenue in Old Cabbagetown, a five-square-block area which got its name in the 1860s when Irish settlers grew vegetables there. The main crop was, of course, cabbages. Today the cabbages are gone, but the Irish—joined by those with Scottish or English bloodlines—remain. When Wylie took over the warehouse, "it was a total wreck, a real mess. There were 165 broken windows, 15 tons of garbage and about a half-inch of oil on the floor."

Wylie used his contacts in the city government to get garbage trucks to help haul away the mess. Seven local youths were enlisted in the clean-up crew. When they were finished, Beverly had his gym and Wylie was the head boxing coach. Subsequently Beverly bowed out, and Wylie devoted himself to the gym.

On a Sunday in the fall of 1977 Michael Sr. brought Shawn by bus the 10 miles from their boxy two-story house in Leaside to the Cabbagetown Gym. Until then, Shawn had worked out in a garage at home, pummeling a heavy bag so ferociously that the beams from which the bag hung had become weakened.

"He'd always been something of a puncher, even when he was only 9 or 10 years old," says his father. "I can remember when we'd be sparring, he'd come up with a mighty fast flurry, and it hurt me. Right to the face. I used to think: Why is this? How come he seems able to do this? Am I getting old? Am I letting him hit me? How come I can't seem to hit so fast?"

Wylie runs his boxing club on a tier system: a junior program for those under 17, an intermediate program for those 17 to 19, and a senior program. Shawn, who was 15 when he came to Cabbage-town, was assigned to the junior program, at the time coached by Ken Hamilton. Shawn had been well-taught by his father. In his 10th bout, he won the Canadian Junior 119-pound title. "Hey, Peter," Hamilton said to Wylie. "This kid is moving out of my class. I think you'd better take him over."

Wylie agreed. He'd monitored Shawn's progress with amazement. Though Shawn was still only 16, Wylie moved him up to the intermediate class, and in his 17th bout he won the Ontario-Quebec Golden Gloves championship. Within a year he was the Canadian national welterweight champion. At 18, he was moved up to the seniors as a 156-pound light middleweight.

Shawn's weight is strung so thinly over a 5'11" frame that his biceps draw scarcely more attention than his elbows. His legs are reedy, with only slight muscle definition, and his arms are long and thin, his wrists small. "Speed and endurance, that's what he's built for," says Hamilton. "Notice the slope of his shoulders. He has well-developed trapezius muscles. That's where his power's from. His arms are only systems of delivery."

There are reasons to believe Shawn will develop physically. His brother Kevin is 6'2"; and Brian, who is 6'1", grew¾ of an inch at the age of 22. None of the O'Sullivan boys began to bulk up until his early 20s. "I'm starting to fill out a bit now," Shawn says. Then he sighs. "For the longest time I didn't look like 156 pounds. Everyone would say, 'You're a light middleweight? You look like a welterweight, or even a 139-pounder.' I'd have to agree, but the weight was there. I wasn't fat; I was always in good shape. But against most of my opponents, I'd look across the ring and say, 'Hey, wait a minute, look at me and look at him.' I'd think I was in the wrong bout. But, when it came down to who could do what to whom, things evened out. For a while it bothered me that these guys were so much more domineering-looking. But with each victory over guys who looked bigger, I kind of changed my mind."

For Willie deWit, the view of his opponents was always from the other end of the telescope. It's he who has always looked larger and more powerful, which he inevitably is. "I think he's probably the strongest heavyweight in the world today, amateur or professional," says Snatic, who has watched his protégé mature to 6'2½" and 201 pounds in the five years of their association. DeWit has the arms of a blacksmith and the body of a Spartan warrior. In the early days of his career, his power was an asset, enabling him to knock out vastly more experienced opponents. But then, as his record soared, the confidence his strength had created grew into overconfidence. Until both Snatic and Len blistered Willie for his attitude, his great strength became a liability.

"You look at him and you think, hey, here's a nice clean-cut kid, but don't let him fool you," Snatic says. "In the ring he's a very vicious man. You can see it in his eyes. He's as mean as a junkyard dog; the son of a bitch will bite you. He'll knock you out and love it. He's honest and clean, but you don't want to try and push him around on the street or in the ring, or he'll bust you. And there's no weak link. I know, because I've tested him. He can take a punch. He's been down a couple of times but he's gotten up to win. He'll take the heart out of anybody. He's stronger than Lucille's breath."

Snatic sold his ranch and moved to Calgary, which is about 400 miles south of Grande Prairie, in April of 1982, and retired from dentistry last December. DeWit went with him. Willie's move was dictated by two needs: to find sparring partners, and to train with a Ugandan exile named Mansoor Esmail, Calgary's top boxing coach, who's considered a physical-conditioning genius.

Esmail, who from 1955 to '56 trained with Idi Amin, who then was the Ugandan heavyweight champion and became his country's ruler, deleted almost all running from Willie's conditioning program, replacing it with circuit training: stationary bike riding, rope jumping, step changes and sprints carrying a medicine ball for muscle tone; and thousands of stretching exercises for flexibility. To prevent boredom, the pattern is always varied.

Willie works with Esmail and Snatic each morning from 6:30 to nine. Then in the afternoon he's back in the gym with Snatic to refine his boxing. Six months ago, after a benefit in Calgary starring boxing fan Ryan O'Neal and his great and good friend, Farrah Fawcett, raised $70,000 to finance Willie's training, Snatic began importing professional sparring partners from the U.S.

"He's had 11 losses in 77 fights, and you can put every one of them down to a lack of experience and a lack of sparring," Snatic says. "Can you believe a kid could become a world amateur champion with as little sparring as Willie was able to get? And he's so damn competitive that until the last few months what few sparring sessions we could get him turned into wars. He hurt a lot of people. I brought pros up, guys like Phillip Brown and Jimmy Young and Dwayne Bonds.

"They were supposed to stay two weeks. Those guys talked a big game. It looks easy with Willie the first two or three days, but they aren't used to the physical punishment or the pace this guy sets. They have a lot of skills, but skills will only take you so far, and then you get tired, and then you got this young, aggressive kid out there whippin' your butt. Most of them pack up and go home early. I really had to order Willie to back off. Geez, he'll cave these pros in and then say, 'Well, I really didn't hit him that hard.' "

Willie's first major victory came in Las Vegas in June 1982; he knocked out Cuba's Pedro Cardenas to win his first North American title. His next came in the Commonwealth Games; it took him a total of three minutes and 12 seconds to knock out three opponents. Then in September he defended his North American title against Aurelio Toyo, the feared Cuban who destroyed everyone he faced in the '83 Pan American Games.

"I'd heard of him and I respected him," says Willie, who missed the Pan Am competition due to a back injury. "I went out there with Toyo and I hit him a couple of shots to the body and I heard him groan, and I looked into his eyes and I knew I'd catch up to him sooner or later.

"I enjoy that. Hell, I read where some guys have to growl at themselves in a mirror for two weeks to make themselves mean. Shoot, the only thing I need to make me mean is to climb into that ring. I like to knock guys out. I don't want to hurt them; I just want to knock them out. That's what I don't like about amateur boxing. Just as you get some guy going, the referee jumps in and protects him. But in that Toyo fight, I hit him a shot and he was going; then I looked over my shoulder and the referee wasn't moving in. I said, 'Hot damn,' and—wham! wham! I got in two more shots—that was the end of Toyo."

Then came the big one. In Reno in March '83 he decisioned Aleksandr Yagubkin of the U.S.S.R. to win the world title.

But no sooner had Willie reached that pinnacle than his body began working against him. First, in July an injury was incorrectly diagnosed as a back muscle spasm—it was, in fact, a pinched nerve—and he had to forgo the Pan Am Games. Then, at last October's World Cup in Rome, deWit painfully discovered that a boxer needs brains to go with his brawn. He found himself in with one No-Il Park, a 5'10" South Korean who fought like a billy goat, which is redundant if you're describing South Korean fighters.

"I told Willie," Snatic says, "keep him on the end of the jab, punch the crap out of him and never let him get close to you, and it's a piece of cake. So what does he do? He goes right in, macho style, and starts leaning in and over with right hands, and they start hitting heads. Here's a midget and he's bumping foreheads with him. Willie got cut above the left eyebrow 10 seconds into the fight. Ten damn seconds. He turned around to me and shook his head. Blood was running down underneath his eye. I said to myself, 'What the hell is going on here.' "

The fight should've been stopped, but the ring doctor, who was a South Korean, was afraid he'd be accused of favoring his countryman.

"When Willie came back to the corner," Snatic says, "I almost stopped it myself. But I said, 'Damn, he can beat this guy. Why take the loss?' But I knew he was out of the tournament, because he couldn't fight again soon with that cut. I told him to go out and take the guy out, anyway."

Willie battered Park without pause and stopped him in the third round. "That's all he had to do," Snatic says. "He's the world champion and the biggest hitter in amateur boxing, and he's in there with an unknown fighting for his life. Butting heads. That's ignorance."

Willie began thinking that perhaps he'd better start following Snatic's fight plans—until he went to a tournament in Stockholm, Sweden last January and found himself in with Arnola Vandereijde, a 6'5" Dutchman who was so skinny he looked like he could be knocked down by a strong exhale.

Willie glanced at him and forgot everything Snatic had been telling him. "I look at these tall, thin guys and I think I'll hit them once and break them in half," deWit says. "That's instead of going out and boxing smart. And these runners, they never stop, they never stand right in front of you. They'd never make it as pros. The amateur game is so different. You cut off a guy, get close enough to him so you can take his head off, and he grabs you. Then the damn referee steps in and walks you out into the middle of the ring, and you have to start the chase all over again."

Willie lost to Vandereijde on a split decision. He knew he was going to catch hell when he got back to his corner. Both Snatic and his father were waiting for him. "When Willie stinks out the place, I'm tough on him," says Len, who now owns the largest gravel-crushing business in Alberta. "After that fight I gave Willie lots of hell. I yelled at him in the dressing room, I yelled at him in the hotel room, and we spent a week in Holland and I yelled at him the whole time. After that he knew what the score was. Power, power, too much power. I've been on him about that for two years. First he didn't like it. Now he says, 'Dad, you're getting smarter every day.' So, a lot of things make sense to him now."

No one is certain what worked, the embarrassment of the loss to the unheralded Dutchman, or the hounding of his father and his coach. But Willie has absorbed the message. "I guess those two fights were learning experiences," he says. "Those were stupid fights on my part. The one in Rome taught me not to take stupid chances. And after that one in Sweden, I said, 'Hey, the reason we're not living in trees anymore is because we're supposed to be smarter.' Mental attitude is a big thing in there. I used to go in with the attitude that I can take this guy's shots; I'm tough. That's stupid. It's a macho thing, but anyone who lets himself get hit when he doesn't have to has to be retarded. Man, if you don't learn defense, you better find another game."

While Willie was struggling, life took a downswing for Shawn, too. At the Rome World Cup, he earned a very clear victory over a hot-dogging Italian named Romolo Casamonica, and then stood in shocked silence when the decision was given to Casamonica. It was blatant robbery, even by the standards of amateur boxing, in which thievery is a common crime. The frustrating loss lowered O'Sullivan's international record to 32-2. Overall, he was 87-4 to that point (he's 90-5 going into the Olympics), and despite looking like a welterweight, he's had 60 knockouts.

"All those knockouts have come in the last couple of years," Wylie says. "He has a fantastic ability in punching, and tremendous power—especially with short punches. That was borne out in his last bout. He fought Michael Cross, from the United States, for the second time in four months. He'd knocked Cross out in the first fight in the first round with a long right, and it put him out like a light. And Cross came back in super shape and determined to beat Shawn. Shawn got him with another long right that shook him, but he dropped him with a right that only traveled two or three inches."

The second O'Sullivan disaster came in April at the Challenge Matches in Los Angeles, where, after a listless performance, he lost his world championship by a 5-0 decision to Frank Tate of Detroit. "That loss should go on my record, not Shawn's," says Wylie. "First Shawn was supposed to fight Casamonica in a rematch, and he was really looking forward to that. Then they told us the Italian had hurt his hand and Tate would replace him. Shawn had already beaten Tate, and facing him again was a big letdown. Then Shawn caught the flu and was out of training five days just before the fight. I'd called the officials in L.A. and told them we couldn't make it. But at the last minute, Shawn said he didn't want to lose his championship by staying home. He had nothing against Tate, no snap, nothing. It's my fault."

No matter. Old defeats can be forgotten; only what happens in the Los Angeles Sports Arena will matter tomorrow.

"Tomorrow?" Shawn asks. "You mean after the Olympics? You can go crazy thinking about those things all the time. I decided that the best thing to do is to look as far as the Games and that's it. As my dad put it once, I should sort of look at my future as if it were a book on the life of Shawn O'Sullivan and I'd only read as far as the Games and then put the book down. So, you see, I don't know what comes after that."

And while Willie has already spoken privately of a pro career, Michael O'Sullivan isn't so sure that is the best route for Shawn. "My philosophy has always been: Take it easy, take it easy," Michael Sr. says. "After Shawn won the 1981 World Cup in Montreal, people said, 'Turn him pro.' And I said, no way. You don't take your 1-year-old racehorse out of the field and race him and ruin his fetlocks, destroy his hocks, just because you want to make a bit of money with him that day. All things are of the season, and human beings are the same way; they have a season.

"Sure, there's money to be made in professional boxing, but it's hard for me to be drawn to that because I am a deep follower of Henry David Thoreau. In his essay, Life Without Principle, he said, 'The ways by which you get money almost without exception lead downward.' And, you know, you've got to watch that. And Thoreau said, 'Possessions are leg irons. By simplicity and the fewness of things I am solidified.' And that's right. A man should think deep. There is so much tinsel."

And so few Olympic gold medals.



O'Sullivan was sapped by the flu and zapped by Tate...


...while deWit decisioned Henry Tillman in L.A. in April.


DeWit, here surveying his father's gravel-crushing business in Alberta, crunches his own quarry in the ring.


Snatic (right) and Esmail put deWit through jaw-toughening paces.


Len and Christina ensure there's plenty to eat for Willie and brother Theodore, who, after all, are still growing.


Under Esmail's regimen, deWit, the heavyweight, eschews the heavy weights.


Michael Sr. introduced Shawn to boxing and often accompanies him on training runs in the Leaside section of Toronto.


Shawn with his twin, Maureen, and (from left) brothers Gerald, Kevin, Brian and Michael Jr.


Michael Sr. drove home a view of life-and boxing-derived from Thoreau: "Almost any make money leads down."


Wylie, who formerly defused bombs for a living, now infuses young boxers with experience in his Cabbagetown Gym.


O'Sullivan bangs the bag and gets a taste of the sweat life in Cabbagetown.