Geronimo Bie saw his promising boxing career KO’d by drugs

 

Vancouver boxer had all the talent and heart to be a real contender

 
 
 
 
Geronimo Bie won a silver medal at the 1990 Commonwealth Games but was disqualified from the 1992 Olympic Games after testing positive for cocaine and heroin.
 
 

Geronimo Bie won a silver medal at the 1990 Commonwealth Games but was disqualified from the 1992 Olympic Games after testing positive for cocaine and heroin.

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Far from the bright lights of Las Vegas where Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather will slug it out tonight, in a dark, dank alleyway in Vancouver’s seedy Downtown Eastside sits a slim, lithe Filipino-Canadian man who some say was once destined for Pacquiao-style glory.

Nicknamed the Shiny Button for his magic in the ring, Geronimo Bie, now 45, travelled the world as one of B.C.’s golden boys, wowing coaches with his God-given talent, electrifying crowds and taking his opponents down while barely breaking a sweat.

Just as it was for Pacquiao, the ring was a refuge from the mean streets, a place where a boy from the wrong side of the tracks could prove his mettle as a man.

For a while, it looked as though Bie was winning the battle.

He won a silver medal at the 1990 Commonwealth Games in New Zealand. He made the 1992 Olympic team but a bigger foe than any he had faced in the ring delivered a knockout punch. Bie was disqualified after testing positive for drug use.

His demons had caught up with him. Somewhere along the way, Bie started using cocaine and heroin. The law wasn’t far behind, landing him in court and jail.

“It was just a bunch of friends who I had grown up with,” the enigmatic former athlete explained with a smile that bears an uncanny resemblance to that of Pacquiao.

“It’s just the thing you do. It didn’t really affect me because I wouldn’t get high before I was fighting.”

His only regret is “maybe hurting my family and friends.”

He speaks so quietly and in such scrambled sentences, he can barely be heard above the wail of ambulances, the rumble of traffic and the odd shrieks that fill the streets.

Bie’s spiral was heartbreaking for his coaches and contemporaries like former Olympic boxer Manny Sobral, who trained with Bie in the dingy, storied Astoria boxing club in downtown Vancouver.

“Geronimo was the original Manny Pacquiao,” Sobral said.

Both Pacquiao and Bie are small in stature, but were never afraid to tackle much bigger opponents. Both have that trademark happy-go-lucky Filipino demeanour you see everywhere in the Lower Mainland now with a recent influx of immigrants from the Philippines.

In terms of boxing style, “they are both very unorthodox,” according to Sobral. Both use a lot of angles, feint with the ease of an apparition, show incredible speed and are demonically elusive in the ring.

“He saw an opening and went for it,” Sobral said of Bie. “He threw caution to the wind and that’s how Pacquiao boxes at times.”

Sobral predicts that if Bie had stayed clean and stuck with boxing, he probably would have been an Olympic medallist. At the very least, he would have been a world-ranked contender in his weight category.

“Everyone gravitated to Geronimo. He was such a likable guy that he was party central and that led him to try the drugs that you could get addicted to.”

To win in the ring, beneath the brawn must beat the heart of a champion. Maybe that was missing in Bie.

“All he wanted to do was have fun,” Sobral said.

Bie, who says he is now clean of drugs, alluded to this.

“Sometimes, you have off-days and you party too much and the dieting can sometimes get to you. When you have to make weight, you have to eat very light. It’s kind of very strict that way.”

Make no mistake, he found joy in the ring, too — the thrill of the win, the outlet for his pure athleticism, the travel, the friends.

But at times, when the pressure mounted, he seemed to fear success more than he craved it.

Bie might not have the heart of a champion, but it is big.

He spoke highly of his mother with whom he now lives, of his father who recently died and of his siblings who are busy working while he spends most of his time hanging out with friends in the Downtown Eastside.

His long hair tied neatly back in a ponytail, he leaned forward and asked the reporter sincerely: “What do you really want to ask me?”

There is one question that lingers.

How could a guy with so much talent get messed up in drugs and wind up hanging out in the Downtown Eastside?

“I grew up down here and I learned a lot here.”

And there it was again, that Pacquiao-look-alike smile.

“I make friends with everybody.”

So seemingly does Pacquiao.

For some questions, there are no clear answers.

Then, without a backward glance, he hopped on his bike and was swallowed by the city.

yzacharias@vancouversun.com

Twitter.com/yzacharias

 
 
 
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Geronimo Bie won a silver medal at the 1990 Commonwealth Games but was disqualified from the 1992 Olympic Games after testing positive for cocaine and heroin.
 

Geronimo Bie won a silver medal at the 1990 Commonwealth Games but was disqualified from the 1992 Olympic Games after testing positive for cocaine and heroin.

 
Geronimo Bie won a silver medal at the 1990 Commonwealth Games but was disqualified from the 1992 Olympic Games after testing positive for cocaine and heroin.
Geronimo Bie talks about his career in boxing  in Vancouver  on April 22, 2015.
Geronimo Bie was a member of the Canadian boxing team that competed at the 1990 Commonwealth Games in Auckland, New Zealand. Bie is in front row, fourth from the left.
Geronimo Bie talks about his career in boxing  in Vancouver  on April 22, 2015.
 
 
 
 
 
 
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