WOMEN’S FINALS

IT wasn’t only Nicola Adams’ smile that shone through the boxing tournament at London 2012. The Leeds flyweight was simply imperious, barely putting wrong one of her dancing feet as she advanced to become the first female Olympic gold medallist.

She floated into the ExCel arena with a beaming grin as if the 10,000 in attendance, clamouring for Britain, had thrown her a surprise party. She brought the same exhilaration to the ring, as though the three-time World champion facing her in the 51 kgs final, China’s Ren Cancan, who had beaten Adams twice before in World finals, posed her no threat. The way Nicola boxed her swiftly proved that to be the case.

“I thought it was going to be a bit closer but I was just so determined to win today. I was so determined I just wasn’t going to let her win. I just couldn’t. My mind was set on winning,” said Adams.

Ren started out trying to work but could get little through. Nicola’s right hand was the telling shot. She landed her cross as she went after Ren. Her jab was clean and Adams led with the right before scoring with her left once again. The Briton finished their exchanges and in the second round tipped Cancan up with her left hook before slamming her right through to blast the Chinese down to the canvas.

After the standing count Ren flapped hooks at her but Nicola’s clear jab struck once more. By the third round Adams’ fluent movement round the ring left Cancan looking flat-footed. She pounded out a 16-7 result over the four-twos, a victory that had never looked in doubt. Nicola even managed to squeeze in her Ali shuffle before the end.

“I think it’s a Nikki shuffle now,” she laughed. “I’ve worked my whole life for this moment and to think that it’s finally here, it’s a dream come true for me.

“Now the time has come and it’s finally here and what better place to showcase women’s boxing. I think it’s fantastic. I can’t believe the support that we’ve had and I think it’s really great the way that Great Britain has got behind women’s boxing.

“It’s been an amazing atmosphere, it’s done the world for women’s boxing. I couldn’t believe the support and it was just giving me the energy and the boost to throw more punches.

”I stuck to the tactics that the coaches gave me and I’ve worked hard since China [and the World Championships]. I’ve really stuck to my training and stuck to the things that me and the coaches have been working on and it’s paid off. Just having the belief in myself that I could do it.”

In just the same way Adams was an emphatic victor over Mery Kom. The brilliant Indian, a five-time World champion, albeit at lower weights, was not able to extend the local heroine in the semi-final. Kom had counter-punched expertly against the weight of larger opponents in her previous bouts in this tournament. The Englishwoman though didn’t give her that option.

A jab knocked Mery back, a right hand jolted her head. The Indian southpaw tapped back her lead right hook but Adams had the first round lead. The Briton sealed it at the start of the second, thumping out three straight punches. They met punch for punch in the third but Kom had to step back, her balance off. Her exuberant Ali shuffle done, Adams had it 11-6.

“I’m happy of course,” Kom said of her bronze medal. “Today I gave my best but that points difference was not good. The last two rounds I was scoring clear punches. I know this is her home crowd. In Olympic qualifying I lost by only two points.”

Adams beat five-time and three-time World champions on her path to the top of the podium and, most impressively, neither of them could touch her. The boxer of the tournament for me.

Ireland’s Katie Taylor won the prize for best female boxer at the Olympics and her list of now near endless accomplishments makes her, unquestionably, the pound-for-pound ruler of the women’s sport. If Adams believed the gold medal belonged to her, so the rapturous Irish supporters, who packed out the arena, willed Taylor to this final finish at the top of the women’s 60 kgs podium.

“To be considered one of the greatest female boxers in the world is a huge privilege,” said Taylor. “It’s a privilege to be here in this position and hopefully I am a role model. I hope some girls watching on TV, aspiring to be an Olympic champion or medallist, see this is what they have to look forward to.”

But Sofya Ochigava had trouble in store for the world number one. The Russian hadn’t come to play a role in Katie’s coronation – she’d come to win. Taylor rushed while Ochigava stayed clever. She struck with her lead right hook, landed a rear left to nose ahead after the second round.

But Taylor delivered in the third, letting her right hand fly, firing in her left hook. The Irish woman turned the bout in those two minutes. The fourth stayed close, Ochigava hooking in her rear left hand, while Katie charged in close. The final score was 10-8 in Taylor’s favour.

With women’s boxing included in the Olympics for the first time in 2012, there now isn’t a major tournament the Irish woman hasn’t won. “This is what I’ve always dreamed of. It’s a dream come true. It’s such a relief to have this gold medal around my neck. I think the pressure you put on yourself, that’s the only pressure that counts really,” said Katie, who had beaten Tajikistan’s Mavzuna Chorieva 17-9 in the semi-final.

“We just approached this competition like any other. The only difference was the crowd was so intense, unbelievable. For any Irish boxer, it was like a home Games for us. The first time I boxed, against Natasha Jonas, there were more Irish people there than English. It was an amazing atmosphere.”

“I was never concerned in the contest,” said her father and coach, Peter Taylor. “When we went a point down, I just knew it was her destiny to be an Olympic champion.”

“I know she’s very disappointed. She’s a great boxer and a great competitor,” Katie said of silver medallist Ochigava. “I knew it was going to be such a tough fight. I knew I had to stay calm. Everything worked out great in the end.”

America should be grateful to Claressa Shields. While the men’s team crashed out of London 2012 without a medal, a 17-year-old from Flint, Michigan restored some lustre to USA amateur boxing. Like Katie Taylor, Shields showed that the female boxers at this tournament aren’t solely about speed and skill – they can hit when they need to.

Claressa took a round to get to grips with Russia’s taller Nadezhda Torlopova in the 75 kgs final. Once she closed in, Shields could work happily, slugging shots over the Russian’s arms and making Torlopova look ungainly, ultimately banging out a 19-12 triumph.

“I always wanted to get a medal. I just kept walking towards it. People were saying I couldn’t do it, that I am too young. They said girls with better experience would beat me. I feel the USA needs it. I am glad that someone won a gold medal. We all worked hard together. I represent myself and them in the ring,” said Claressa.

“I knew she was going to step up and I was going to see how far she had stepped up. She felt she was stronger than me. When I showed her I had a little bit of strength she stepped off. I stayed away from her right, that’s her bread and butter. I was faster. I wasn’t stronger than her though. I made that fight a little bit harder for myself. I fight with guys bigger than me all the time. She had awkward timing.”

Considering her age, Claressa could be a multiple Olympian. Shields is the jewel of American amateur boxing at the moment but a lack of funding, not to mention pressures a teenager should not be under, could force her to leave the Olympic sport behind.

“2016 is sounding pretty good right now. I just don’t know,” she said. “Me and my coach have got to sit down and talk about it. I’ve got a family to feed. I’ve got a little brother, a little sister, my mom, my dad, my brother out of prison. I want to try to look out for them so we’ll see how everything goes.”

In the semi-final Kazakhstan’s Marina Volnova wanted to stand and fight; Shields was happy to oblige. This kind of warfare suited her more than the mobility preferred of European boxers and Claressa appeared to relax into the tournament.

When Volnova rushed in, looking to keep busy, the American fired back. Claressa’s fists flew faster and harder than the Kazakh’s. Shields’ right smashed over to give Marina a standing count in the third round. Exhilarated, Claressa pressed her harder. A one-two from Volnova did not dissuade her and the American blasted her way out of a corner.

A left hook shook the Kazakh and in the fourth round another right hand gave Volnova a second standing count. Shields brought up her hooks and Marina had run out of ideas, simply trying to force her way forward. The final score was an emphatic 29-15 to the US boxer.

“She didn’t respect me when I was moving so I turned it into a fun game and I started banging with her and I got the best of it. I was able to pick my shots and we were just having a fight. It was fun though,” said Shields. “That’s just natural for me. I love fighting. If a girl’s going to stand in front of me, why not hit her?”

The bronze medal Marlen Esparza takes back to the States ensured that this USA team actually exceeded their 2008 medal haul, although neither of their two podium finishes came from the men.

In the semi-final Ren Cancan condemned the American to a 10-8 defeat. The Chinese southpaw backed off hooking, using her rear left hand to set up a lead right hook. Esparza grew more accustomed to her as the bout progressed, attacking intelligently in a level last round. “It’s hard with someone that constantly pulls back,” said Marlen. “She was frustrated because I wasn’t coming forward so and I thought I did everything that I could do.”

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