London 2012 Olympics: Adams makes history with brilliant gold
NICOLA Adams of Leeds became the first female boxer ever to win an Olympic gold medal, beating Cancan Ren of China in a surprisingly one-sided final at the ExCel arena, during which Ren found herself on the canvas in the second round.
After a similarly straightforward victory over Mary Kom, India’s five-time world champion, in the semi-final, Adams could hardly have been a more convincing champion in the fly category. But her victory was not only over her opponents. With her beaming smile, and vivacity in and out of the ring, the one-time actress may also have won over many of those who raised objections to women’s boxing and its inclusion in the Olympics.
They include Amir Khan, the silver medallist in Athens, who was an early objector. He has been won over, attending bouts, including yesterday’s three women’s finals, and raved about the standard of women’s boxing. He has not been the only one. Since the women’s competition got underway on Sunday, the atmosphere in the ExCel arena has equalled that of any venue in any sport – and it has arguably been more raucous for the women than the men.
The decibels yesterday owed much to the Irish contingent, who seemed to form a majority of the crowd. “Half of Ireland is here today,” claimed Barry McGuigan, , though his claim seemed questionable. Only half?
They were there for the Irish heroine, Katie Taylor, who was in the ring after Adams, fighting for the lightweight title. But the noise for 29-year-old Adams was also roof-raising, and she responded by attacking from the start. Ren is a three-time world champion who beat Adams in their most recent bout, and was the pre-fight favourite, but you wouldn’t have known. After early pressure from Ren, Adams fought back and was awarded the first round by 4-2. “I just stuck to the tactics the coaches gave me and I’ve worked so hard since China,” said Adams, referring to her recent defeat by Ren. “I had belief in myself that I could do it. I was so determined to win. I wasn’t going to let her win. I couldn’t. My mind was set on winning.”
In the second round she came out and hit Ren with a flurry of punches. Then, with 52 seconds left on the clock, she caught her square on the forehead, a punch that sent Ren sprawling to the canvas, while the arena erupted. “I didn’t see that coming,” Adams admitted afterwards. “I was just thinking of becoming Olympic champion.”
Adams kept up that intensity, jabbing with her left, swinging with her right, forcing her opponent on to the defensive and hardly allowing her a punch in response. Her lead was 9-4 at the end of the second, and she kept pulling away, 14-5 after three rounds, and in the fourth, with Ren wobbling, and clearly exhausted, the pattern remained the same.
Adams was able to indulge her trademark dance of celebration before the official result came through, and she was declared Olympic champion. “It’s a dream come true,” she said. “I am so happy and overwhelmed with joy. I have wanted this my whole life and I have done it. I was confident going into the ring, I’ve been confident all week, thinking: I can do this.”
She grew up idolising Muhammad Ali and Sugar Ray Leonard and can remember being inspired by Rumble in the Jungle, which her father showed her when she was eight or nine. But despite dreaming of becoming Olympic champion since then, it wouldn’t have been possible as a boxer until now.
She hopes other girls will be inspired to take up the sport after seeing her. “That’s what I want to see,” she said. “When I first got into boxing Muhammad Ali and Sugar Ray Leonard were my heroes, and I wanted to do what they did. But if there are girls who come into boxing because they look at me and see me do it, that’d be brilliant.”
Adams said success will not change her. All she was thinking about was her favourite chicken meal at Nando’s with her family, and getting home to her nine-month-old Doberman, Dexter. But to the question of whether she had answered the critics of women’s boxing, she replied: “I don’t think it’s me that’s answered that, I think it’s the crowds. Their enthusiasm and support has been amazing, and they’ve been cheering as much as the lads.”
They were certainly cheering the next fighter in the ring, Katie Taylor, who, in fighting Sofya Ochigava of Russia, had a far tougher test. The Irish fans had streamed into the arena, waving flags and wearing the hats and T-shirts and rugby shirts that identify the fighting Irish, here to support an Irish fighter. The large concourse of the ExCel arena resembled Rose Street on a Six Nations weekend.
But it did not go according to the script. Ochigava was a stubborn opponent, who teased Taylor and gained the early advantage, leading her after two rounds. But in the third – which has been her strongest all the way through the tournament, said her father and coach, Peter – she stormed into the lead, winning the round 4-1. It was close at the end, though, and there was a nervous wait before the official result was announced, with Taylor getting the verdict, 10-8. “We knew it was going to be a tough fight,” said Taylor. “It’s always been cat and mouse between the two of us: she’s a really good fighter. But I knew I had to stay calm and composed and that it was a game of patience.”
The unassuming Taylor expressed her “relief” at the end, paying tribute to the crowd, which “lifted” her when she needed lifting in the third round, and she promised to carry on fighting. “My father wants me to stop,” she said, , “but I have no intention of stopping. I have another ten years in me.”
She is here to stay, and so, after its triumphant debut at the London Games, is women’s boxing.
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