Esmeralda Falcon is the straight-talking boxer fighting for a place in Mexican Olympic history
Elite sport can be fickle, and athletes often receive little attention for finishing in second place.
That used to be Esmeralda Falcon’s story.
But the boxer’s life changed in 2018, when she won the 60kg title at the Central American and Caribbean Games in Barranquilla, Colombia.
Subsequently, she finally received the scholarship offer she needed to realistically have a chance of qualifying for the Tokyo Olympic Games in 2021.
“The medal changed my whole life because I had been selected in the national team since 2014, but had never been offered any support,” she told Milenio. “The scholarship gave me the facilities I needed to study and train, because I was also working before.
“It also opened up new expectations and realities for me, and made me believe that I had a better chance of reaching the Olympic Games. Now, my work and determination can help me to achieve these objectives.”
Mexico is synonymous with boxing.
The North American nation has produced countless professional world champions, as well as Olympic champions like Ricardo Delgado and Antonio Roldan (both at the Mexico City 1968 Games).
With 13 medals overall, it is their second most successful sport in Olympic history.
It may come as a surprise, therefore, that since women's boxing was added to the Olympic programme at London 2012, there have been no female competitors from Mexico.
The sport has continued to grow since then, and the Tokyo Olympics will feature the most female boxers in history with five weight divisions - two more than at Rio 2016.
It is also interesting to note that in Japan, Mexico’s female boxers now appear to be their best chance of glory.
After a poor showing across the board at the 2019 Pan American Games, Falcon and compatriot Brianda Cruz gave Mexico something to cheer after both securing bronze medals.
Falcon believes that disorganisation and a lack of proper funding for her sport at home were partially to blame for the disappointing results.
"We cannot have high ambitions if they do not give us preparation, a decent international-standard warm-up," the 25-year-old told El Universal. “My federation, my coach Óscar Valdez, and my mayor's office (Xochimilco) were the ones who supported us financially. If they hadn’t, we would not have had representatives in this discipline.”
She was also given financial assistance from professional Mexican boxer Mariana “Barbie” Juarez, who wanted to support a future female star.
Falcon and Cruz will get their chance to make history when compete at the Americas Olympic Boxing Qualifier in Buenos Aires on 6-13 May.
“I will do my best and would die to achieve my goal"
But the lightweight pugilist isn’t one to feel pity for herself, or dwell too long on what she doesn’t have.
In September 2020, she contracted COVID-19 along with six other members of her family. Falcon was hospitalised out of precaution due to being an asthmatic, but was back on her feet after a few days.
"When I started training it was shady and I was coughing and getting tired, but both my coach and my teammates have motivated me to keep going," she said.
The ordeal gave her a new perspective on life, and made her more determined than ever to achieve her goals in boxing.
If Falcon qualifies to compete at the Olympics in Japan, she believes she can bring home a medal.
"I do not want to say the colour of the medal," she continued. "Perhaps many will tell me that I'm crazy, that it is arrogance on my part. But I will do my best and would die to achieve my goal, and if God allows me, I will reach the final.
“We must take advantage of the little we have. Mexicans have strong genetics, and just as we have not faced someone like them, they have not faced something like us."
Talking about menstruation
Falcon pulls no punches when it comes to speaking her mind.
Another topic she feels that doesn’t get the attention it deserves in the upper echelons of sports administration, is menstruation.
Her concern is that the majority of coaches in boxing are male, and don’t understand the needs of female athletes.
“Not all women experience their period in the same way,” she explained to Mediotiempo. “I have colleagues who suffer a lot, they have pain, their performance drops too low. These feelings are the same for everyone, but for some people the effects are greater than others.
"You are bleeding, losing vitamins and iron during your preparation, but the coach’s demands remain the same. There has to be better preparation on those days in terms of nutrition, to ensure that our bodies are not missing vital vitamins during that four-day-to-a-week period.”
Falcon wants to educate people, while banishing the idea that the topic of menstruation is taboo.
"Most of the coaches are men and perhaps they are a bit sad to talk about it , but the first step has already been taken because they talk about it, they understand us, they ask us how we are during this time."
The tricky path to Olympic qualification
Qualifying for the Games will take a mammoth effort, given the embarrassment of riches the Americas enjoy in the lightweight division.
Brazilian world champion Beatriz Ferreira is the early favourite for Olympic gold, and is expected win the qualifier in Buenos Aires.
Rashida Ellis from the United States will also be quietly confident of securing one of the three 60kg Olympic berths.
But Falcon isn’t intimidated by her rivals, and is confident in her ability to cause a surprise.
“I have already faced them and if I am drawn against them in the Olympic trial, I will do so with my mistakes corrected.”
Falcon wants to compete in Japan for something bigger than herself.
While many boxers are obsessed with personal glory and accolades, she wants to improve society. She wants her victories to represent all women.
“Every step we take is going to benefit the next generation," she told football24. "To be recognised as females together, not just talented individuals.”
She also won't cut any corners in her pursuit to reach the top of boxing. Regardless of what she achieves in 2021, she wants to remain an amateur for at least three more years.
“I want to compete in two Olympic cycles. Some say that I have arrived late to boxing, but I believe that I have arrived at the right time. Yes I want to try to be a professional, but it would be after Paris 2024.”
Fearless, humble and driven, Falcon is taking women’s boxing in Mexico to new heights.