Olympics 2016: Women's boxing special
Women’s boxing won it’s hardest fight at the 2012 Olympics: The fight for acceptance.
Initially viewed as something of a novelty by those unacquainted with the sport, the competition debuted at London 2012 and turned out to be one of the great success stories of the Games.
Fighters of the calibre of Nicola Adams, Katie Taylor and Claressa Shields walked in to the stadium for the opening ceremony as faces amongst a sea of athletes but developed into bona fide stars over the duration of the Games. The gold medals, they proudly wore as the event drew to a close, just reward for demonstrating that women are capable of producing entertaining and, more importantly, skilful contests.
Over the past four years, women boxing has gone from strength to strength. The success of the inaugural tournament resulted in many countries diverting extra funds towards their women's boxing programmes, and the natural increase in exposure and participation has widened the talent pool immeasurably. Rio 2016 plays host to the second women's Olympic boxing tournament (starting Friday) and the stage is set for an exciting, unpredictable, and fast paced fortnight. Adams, Taylor and Shields will all defend their titles in Rio, but each will face a stern test of their credentials.
Valerian Spicer clocked up thousands of air miles in her attempt to become the first female to box for Dominica at the Olympic Games, but was cruelly denied a spot despite some strong performances over the course of the qualifying process.
The IOC’s decision to hold back one position in each weight category to boxers benefiting from Olympic Solidarity Funding briefly offered London-based Spicer the hope of a last gasp invitation to Brazil, but the committee chose to give the places to athletes from Micronesia, Panama, and the Central African Republic, ending her dreams.
“In 2012, there were a handful of boxers who really stood out,” Spicer told Boxing Monthly. “This time, I think the quality has improved massively. I’ve been to the last two world championships and although the standard in 2014 was high, the level at the last one in Kazakhstan was a lot, lot higher. The improvement has been massive in the last four years.
“Women’s boxing really has changed dramatically over the past few years. Now, people will be looking at the skill on show, because it’s there in abundance now.”
Traditionally, men's amateur boxing has had powerhouse nations. In recent years, Great Britain have enjoyed unprecedented success and Kazahkstan have emerged as major beneficiaries of the break-up of the old Soviet Union. Cuba are the grand old giant of the amateur code and although the USA failed to earn a single medal in 2012 - the first time that had happened since 1904 - they have a star-studded history in the unpaid code. In women's boxing, the glory is spread around far more evenly.
“There are a few countries that has really good programmes, and that seem to produce good boxers as collectives but it [success] is quite spread out.” Spicer said. “Italy have a very good programme, it’s a set-up very much like Team GB and they’ve had quite a few good boxers come through. Russia also have some very good boxers.
“The Bulgarian women are much better than their men. I’m not saying that the men are bad, but they do seem to have a lot of top female boxers. It is very noticeable now that as female boxing has improved, the three Olympic weight categories have become very competitive.
“It’s going to be tough but I think that Nicola Adams and Clarissa Shields are firm favourites. It’s going to be hard to beat them. There are some very good girls in all of the groups, though. Nobody is invincible!”
Valerian has consistently competed against the boxers who will vie for medals in the lightweight (60 kg) division and is also ideally placed to point out the boxers to watch at flyweight (51 kg) and middleweight (75 kg).
Flyweight - 51 kg
“The favourite is Nicola Adams. She’s a consistent performer, but I’d say that there are some very good girls at 51 kg. There’s a Bulgarian [Stanimira Petrova] who’s very, very good. Ren Cancan [the three time world champion] from China is another. I don’t think the Bulgarian boxed to her best at the recent world championships and I know Ren Cancan was out for a little while with injury, but she’s beaten Nicola Adams before. I’d say Nicola is the favourite, though.
“I actually put Sarah Ourahamoune from France as the outsider for the group. She’s a natural 48kg boxer but she’s very experienced. She’s been boxing for quite a few years. She’s got a lovely tidy style and I know that she boxed Nicola last year and that the fight was quite close. She’s a very good tactical boxer.”
Lightweight - 60 kg
“I think 60 kg is the most competitive division. There are a number of girls with a chance of winning. I’ve either boxed or sparred 10 of the 12 girls competing and I’d say that the Russian [2016 world championship silver medalist, Anastasia Beliakova] is the best in the group. She’s the best boxer I’ve faced and I’d put her as the top candidate.
“I personally think Katie Taylor has slipped a little. It’s very difficult to be in the top position for the amount of time she has. I also think that the other girls have caught up and the standard has really improved.
“I would say that either Anastasia, Katie Taylor - Irma Testa [Italy] is another coming up - Mira Potkonen [Finland] is a very experienced boxer and there is also Estelle Mossely [the 2016 world champion from France]. It could be any of those. They’re all top, top 60 kg boxers.
“As the outsider I would put Mira. I think she’s the most physical of the boxers in the category , she’s very experienced and she’ll make for great fights.”
Middleweight - 75 kg
“Claressa Shields is one of the poster girls for women’s boxing. She’s definitely the girl to beat in the 75 kg category. She hasn’t been beaten since 2012 and she’s definitely the favourite.
“I do see somebody capable of giving her a challenge, though. I wouldn’t say she’s an outsider but Nouchka Fontijin [Netherlands] is in with a chance. She’s been consistent at 75 kg. She’s got a lovely style and I think she’s got the skills to beat Claressa. They boxed each other for the first time in the final of the world championships in May and the fight was close [Shields won a decision]. I would say that she has the skills to do it. I really rate Nouchka. I think she’s a lovely boxer with great skills. I think she can challenge Claressa.”