Do you remember when Leasider Shawn O’Sullivan won the gold medal at the World Amateur Boxing Championships in 1981 and again in 1983? At the time he was the toast of the town and the Borough of East York.
Shawn grew up on Donlea Drive along with his twin sister Maureen and his younger brother Kevin. Shawn jokes that he is the eldest because he was born a few minutes before Maureen. He first learned to box under the guidance and instruction of his father Michael. Michael O’Sullivan was a TTC bus driver and I often chatted with him when I rode his bus on my way downtown.
As an amateur boxer, Shawn rang up 94 victories while losing only six times, a record matched by very few, if any, other Canadian boxers. At the age of 16 he won the Canadian Junior title in Whitehorse, Yukon. Then in 1981, as a 19 year old, he defeated the Cuban Olympic gold medalist, Armando Martinez, twice on his way to winning the gold medal as a light middleweight in the World Amateur Boxing Championships. That year he was named Canada’s Athlete of the Year.
In 1984 at the Los Angeles Olympics, after totally dominating his earlier opponents, he fought an American, Frank Tate, for the gold medal. During the second round of the championship match, Shawn took Tate to two standing eight counts and nearly a third as the round ended. But the judges awarded the match and thus the gold medal to Frank Tate. When the gold medal was draped around Tate’s neck, the crowd booed. Later, even Tate’s coach admitted Shawn may have won.
After winning the Olympic silver medal, Shawn turned professional. He won his first 11 bouts as a welterweight. When he finally retired from boxing he had recorded 23 wins, 16 of them by knockouts.
During his boxing career Shawn’s head took a terrific pounding. Since retiring from boxing 20 years ago, he has been diagnosed with brain damage from the many cumulative blows to his head. Today sports’ head injuries, like concussions, generate a great deal more public attention and concern than they did while Shawn was boxing.
In 2015, Leaside’s pride, Shawn O’Sullivan, was inducted into the Ontario Sports Hall of Fame.
Alan Redway is a former East York mayor and federal cabinet minister