Girl power takes to the ring in Nanjing

After triumphing in a closely-fought competition that gripped the spectators inside the Nanjing International Expo Centre, Jajaira Gonzalez (USA), Chang Yuan (CHN) and Elzbieta Wojcik (POL) became the first women to win Youth Olympic gold.

Two years after the sport made its Olympic debut at London 2012, women’s boxing took its bow on the Youth Olympics programme and three gold medals were up for grabs in flyweight, lightweight and middleweight divisions.

Within each weight class, six boxers aged 16 to 18 each fought three bouts across four days of competition that included a preliminary round, semi-finals and a final, as well as a fifth-place play-off and bronze medal match for the losers in each phase.

Parker edges out brave Desmond

On 25 August, Australia’s Caitlin Parker knew she was in for a real battle when she took on Ireland’s Christina Desmond in the women’s 69-75kg middleweight bronze medal bout.

The Irish youngster was determined to show her trademark courage as she took the fight to her taller, heavier opponent in front of a packed house but, ultimately, bravery alone was not enough and the Australian took the judge’s unanimous decision.

Last year, Desmond, who is a multiple All-Ireland junior champion, secured a bronze medal at the World Youth Championships. Here in Nanjing, she was cheered on by her twin brother Michael, himself a multiple All-Ireland junior boxing champ.

Both twins started boxing together in the same gym more than eight years ago and Christina reflected fondly on their early days in the sport: “I could take him down, he wasn’t that tough,” she said with a laugh.

For Michael, meanwhile, watching his sister in the ring brought back memories of his own sporting career: “Watching this I do have regrets [about giving up boxing],” he explained. “I miss getting in the ring, going head to head with an opponent, taking a few punches and giving a few as well. But I could never be as good as her.”

Finally, the other two bronze medals went to Turkey’s Neriman Istik, who sealed a 2-1 victory over Armenia’s Anush Grigoryan in the women’s 48-51kg fly, and Sweden’s Agnes Alexiusson, who dominated in her 57-60kg lightweight bout against Istik’s compatriot, Esra Yildi.

Gonzalez eyes Rio

On 26 August, Jajaira Gonzalez (USA) beat Ciara Ginty (IRL) three rounds to nil in the women’s lightweight final. After the fight, Gonzalez explained how the introduction of women’s boxing at the London Games had served as her inspiration.

“This has been my dream since the women’s boxing was introduced at the London Olympics in 2012,” she explained. “I am so happy that all my hard work has paid off. It feels unreal.”

“This is the day all boxers dream about. It shows that it’s not just boys that can do well in the ring, the girls can too.”

“I’m going to go back home and train hard. I’m going to do everything I can to get to Rio [for the 2016 Olympic Games].”

Chang gets what she came for

In the women’s 48-51kgflyweight final there was glory for the host nation as Chang Yuan grabbed China’s first women’s boxing gold. The youngster beat Italy’s Irma Testa by unanimous decision, much to the delight of the fans packed around the ring.

“I was here for the gold,” Chang said after the final. “When I beat the world youth champion [Armenia’s Anush Grigoryan] in the semi-final I knew I was going to win it. I’m just a normal girl outside of the ring, I never fight.”

Testa, meanwhile, remained upbeat despite defeat: “Boxing here was a great experience,” she explained. “Hopefully I can do even better in the future!”

Then, in the last final of the evening, Elzbieta Wojcik (POL) – her country’s sole representative in the competition – was crowned 69-75kg middleweight champion following a hard-fought victory over Chen Nien-Chin (TPE). The fight remained in the balance throughout but Wojcik eventually edged it in the fourth round.

“I feel great, I’m so happy to have won,” she said. “It was so tough, I can’t even describe how I’m feeling.”

And her opponent was gracious in defeat: “Wojcik is a great boxer, it was an honour for me to come up against her,” Chen said.