Rio 2016 produces three worthy women’s boxing champions

The women’s boxing competition at Rio 2016 served up an exhilarating array of action across three weight categories. Great Britain’s Nicola Adams and Claressa Shields of the USA retained the flyweight and middleweight titles they won in London in 2012, while France’s Estelle Mossely gave her country a maiden boxing gold in the lightweight category.

Picture by 2016 Getty Images

Having become the first ever women’s Olympic boxing champion on 9 August 2012 in London, Nicola Adams also became the first female boxer to defend an Olympic crown inside Riocentro Pavilion 6. Breezing through the flyweight competition – the lightest of the three women’s weight categories contested in Rio – Adams won her three fights without losing a single round.

First up she saw off Ukraine’s Tetyana Kob in the quarter final before a semi-final bout against China’s Ren Cancan, who she beat in the final in London four years earlier. In Rio, her final opponent was France’s Sarah Ourahmoune who, at 34 years of age, was enjoying something of a renaissance after failing to qualify for London 2012.

The French fighter’s route to the final got underway at the expense of Algeria’s Zohra El-Zahraoui in the round of 16, winning 3-0, before victories over Kazakhstan’s Zhaina Shekerbekova and Colombia’s Ingrit Valencia Victoria in the subsequent rounds, winning 3-0 and 2-0 respectively.

Heading into the final on 20 August, Adams held the edge over long-time rival Ourahmoune, having won all of their previous bouts. Fighting out of the red corner, Adams immediately took the upper hand after an action-packed first round. She maintained control in the second round by using her superior reach to her advantage and though Ourahmoune closed the gap in the third by finding several openings, it was too late for her to mount a serious comeback.

On winning her second gold, Adams could hardly contain her excitement: “I can't believe it. I’m now officially Great Britain’s most accomplished amateur boxer ever. It’s such an amazing feeling. It’s been an extraordinary adventure. It’s not easy when you’ve already come up against the same opponent a number of times, she knows how you move so you’ve got to keep changing things up right to the end.”

For Ourahmoune, meanwhile, the silver medal represented a perfect swansong to an illustrious career to an end: “It hasn’t quite sunk in yet,” she said. “There’s a mixture of joy and disappointment and it’s also hugely emotional because this was my last fight. It’s really bizarre. It was my last time in the changing rooms, my last time in the ring,” she continued. “I’ve worked hard. I had a dream and I think that pushed me on over the years, it was a powerful thing.”

Losing semi-finalists Ren Cancan of China and Colombia’s Ingrit Valencia Victoria took the bronze medals.

Mossely boxes her way to gold for France

On 19 August, France’s Estelle Mossely battled it out against China’s Yin Junhua in the lightweight final to take Rio’s first women’s boxing gold. In what was a close-fought encounter, Mossely’s victory sealed France’s maiden gold in the event.

En route to the final, Mossely dominated Italy’s Irma Testa with a unanimous points victory in the quarter final before being helped along by an elbow injury to semi-final opponent Anastasia Beliakova, who was forced to retire just seconds into their bout. Yin Junhua, meanwhile, flew through the earlier rounds, sealing her place in the final with three 3-0 victories.

In the final, the Mossely had to dig deep. Trailing after the first two rounds, she produced a warrior-like performance to turn the tide and get a 2-1 verdict. “In the second and third rounds I just went for it,” she explained. “I knew I was trailing and I wanted to show just how much I wanted this title, to show that I was stronger than her. Now I’ve written my name in history. It’s magical, just incredible. I didn’t know it would feel like this!”

It was France’s first gold medal in the ring since Brahim Asloum won the light-flyweight title at Sydney 2000. Commentating on the final, Asloum was glad to see his record fall: “There it is,” he exclaimed. “We’re in 2016 and France has a new Olympic champion. I wasn’t going to wait to be 65 years old to see this, that would’ve been a real pain!”

Mossely had already seen her boyfriend Tony Yoka reach the super heavyweight gold in the men’s competition. He was still sweating from his bout as he took his seat to watch her clinch gold on her 24th birthday. Two days later the roles would be reversed as Mossely saw Yoka match her feat by winning gold.

Shields retains middleweight crown

The USA’s Claressa Shields arrived in Rio hoping to retain the title she won in London in 2012, driven on by the memory of boxing great Muhammad Ali, who died aged 74 on 3 June 2016.

“The day he died, I felt like a big part of me died too,” she recalled. “I remember when I met him I felt this sense of pride. He was the first African-American to stand up and say ‘I’m black and I’m pretty and I can fight’. He kind of gave you that belief that you are beautiful, you are brilliant. He was the most dangerous boxer in the world. I just try to do justice to him when I talk about him and when I fight. Nobody will ever be as great as him, but I can try to get as close as possible.”

And in Rio, Shields paid tribute to her idol in the best way imaginable, securing a string of unanimous points victories on the way to retaining her middleweight title. In what was a repeat of the World Championship final won by Shields in Astana (KAZ) in May 2016, the final in Rio on 21 August saw the American face off against Nouchka Fontijn of the Netherlands, the 2014 European champion and gold medal winner at the 2015 European Games in Baku (AZE).

As a reminder of her status as reigning Olympic champion, Shields brought her London 2012 gold medal to the ring and she left with a matching pair. “In London I knew I was going to win and I knew I was going to win here," said the super-confident Shields, who has not lost a bout since 2012.

“I just wanted to win the first two rounds clear, that's all I wanted, when I came back to the corner they were saying you got that round, you got that round. I said I have to be smart,” she added. “I've worked so hard to be here. You know not everybody can be an Olympic gold medallist. I'm a two-time Olympic gold medallist!”

While Shields became the first American boxer in 112 years to win two Olympic gold medals, Fontijn’s silver was the first boxing medal won by the Netherlands since heavyweight Arnold Vanderlyde and light-middleweight Orhan Delibas took bronze and silver respectively in 1992. Kazakhstan's Dariga Shakimova and China's Li Qian sealed the bronze medals as losing semi-finalists.