By Jeff Hicks
MONTREAL — Mandy Bujold, sparring against an invisible foe in the concrete belly of the Big O, danced around a red-canvas ring in dark high-tech head gear and comfy white socks.
“You feel like you’re in a different world,”
said Bujold of her virtual-reality training session underneath Olympic Stadium this week as national team staff looked on.
“Everywhere you look, you see this new reality. It’s amazing. It’s a really neat feeling.”
It’s a neat look too.
That Marvin the Martian helmet made the 11-time national champ look like a shadow-boxing astronaut. She was a deep-sea diver bent on returning from the pressure-filled fathoms with a Tokyo medal and becoming Canada’s first female boxer to fight in two Olympic games. A fly-weight Great Gazoo with virtual reality goggles and a gravity-defying jab that could knock a digital foe into a total lunar eclipse.
Instead of gloves and wraps, she clutched black wands in each hand like Olympic torches. Occasionally, her view screen buzzed and blurred when she took a virtual punch. Occasionally, her view screen buzzed and blurred when she took a virtual punch.
“Did he smash me or what?”
asked Waterloo Region’s community champ as she responded with a real-life combo.
The trial technology performed impressively. Mandy also had strong buzz in Montreal, where she’ll train with other national team boxers for another week. Top-level boxers, gymnasts, divers and martial artists are all training here at the home of the 1976 Olympics. Jennifer Abel, synchronized diving bronze medalist from 2012. is here too.
“You’re surrounded by high-performance athletes,”
Elite athletes are like family. They often bring family along too. Mandy is joined by her toddler Kate and mom Brigitte in Montreal. They’ll all enjoy a weekend visit to Beauce, Brigitte’s family home about 45 minutes south of Quebec City. Kate will meet aunts and uncles and her great grandmother. Mandy’s Kitchener-based coach, Syd Vanderpool, came to Montreal too to help prepare her for an important two month drive for a fighting chance in Japan.
Those are the Five Ring stakes. And in a pixelated ring reality, Mandy threw high-tech hooks with a random training opponent. She weighed in on a pretend scale. The matrix of mayhem included a referee and a cheering audience. For new fighters, the evolving tech could prove invaluable, Mandy believes.
“If it’s your first fight, it gives you that same feeling,” she said. “It’s really cool to see it develop. Just imagine what the training is going to be like in a few years.”
The simulation, Mandy suggests, would be ideal for boxers coming back from an injury like a concussion as they progress back to actual sparring. Developers put Mandy and a partner through a variety of scenarios for the duck-and-slip software too. She may be an Olympic medal hopeful of the real-world moment, preparing for a February tournament in Hungary before the continental Olympic qualifiers in Argentina in late March. But Mandy is also a virtual pugilist of the near future.One day soon, other Canadian women may be able to virtual-spar against Mandy in her prime. And Mandy could even go glove-to-glove with her simulated self.
“That’s probably what I’d be most interested in,” Mandy said. “Seeing what it’s like from the other side.”