Irish lightweight Katie Taylor and British flyweight Nicola Adams also won gold medals at the London Games’ landmark tournament Thursday. They claimed the first Olympic titles in a growing sport that was banned in Britain until 1996.
The five-day event was one of London’s biggest hits. And even amid the sea of Irish fans cheering Taylor’s every move, the 17-year-old fighter from Flint, Mich., was one of the breakout stars of the games.
Shields capped her rapid rise through the amateur ranks in the past two years with three strong performances in the London ring, providing USA Boxing with a much-needed boost.
Her power and elusiveness were far too much for Russia’s 33-year-old Nadezda Torlopova, nearly twice Shields’ age and half her speed at times. Shields won fairly easily, 19-12.
She shuffled, sidestepped and preened while showing off her power and speed, sticking her tongue out at Torlopova in the final round after dodging several punches by bobbing her head from side to side.
The teenager won the 12-member American team’s only gold medal in London. The winningest nation in Olympic boxing history got no medals from its men’s team for the first time, and flyweight Marlen Esparza won a bronze.
An ugly Olympics for the U.S. team ended with a performance worthy of Cassius Clay, Joe Frazier, Oscar De La Hoya and every American Olympic champion that came before Shields.
After her arm was raised for the never-in-doubt victory, Shields shimmied and shook her way out of the ring with swagger. With her hand over her heart on the medal podium moments later, she abruptly burst into uproarious laughter, her head rocking back in pure joy.
Most of the raucous crowd came to see Taylor, who won Ireland’s first gold medal at these Olympics amid a patriotic fervor of Irish flags, songs and thousands of devoted fans who treat her as a sports icon at home.
Taylor’s victory, a 10-8 win over Russia’s Sofya Ochigava, was perhaps the least memorable part of the afternoon. She barely beat Ochigava in a defensive fight, relying on a 4-1 points swing in the third round after trailing midway through the bout.
Unlike most of Taylor’s fights, the result was still in some doubt when the judges’ scores were announced. Taylor fell to her knees and looked skyward when her arm was raised, bringing an even louder roar from the fans, many of them in green face paint and elaborate Irish-themed costumes.
Taylor took a victory lap of ExCel arena after the medal ceremony, trailing a green, white and orange Irish flag behind her.
Ochigava predicted Wednesday she would lose a close fight to the arena favorite, and Taylor’s longtime foil wore an exasperated look of disbelief after the final scores were announced. She accepted her silver medal with arms folded across her chest, refusing to acknowledge the crowd’s cheers — but she hugged Taylor when all the medalists posed for photos later.
Taylor is the unofficial pound-for-pound champion of women’s boxing after winning the past four world titles with an entertaining style. Ochigava is Taylor’s only rival for lightweight supremacy, and the Russian criticized Taylor on Wednesday after both fighters won semifinal bouts, saying her Irish foe gets star treatment from referees and judges.
Try telling that to the crowd that embraced Taylor with unmatched fervor, realizing the Irish team’s flag-bearer was their best hope for gold in London. Taylor eventually teared up as she left the ring in her robe, but got it together for the medal ceremony, taking another victory lap of the arena with the flag trailing behind her.
Adams got nearly as much love for a victory that was perhaps even more impressive. She stunned world champion Ren Cancan of China in a 16-7 win that was met with cheers from a crowd that included the Duchess of Cambridge, formerly known as Kate Middleton.
Adams knocked down Ren — a rare occurrence in such a high-level amateur fight — in the second round with a left to the throat and a right to the head. She eventually finished off the top-seeded flyweight, dominating the middle rounds by a combined 10-3.
Adams celebrated the final bell by throwing a few punches at the roaring home crowd. Adams’ two British teammates also were favored to medal, but lost early.
“I am so happy and overwhelmed with joy right now,” Adams said. “I have wanted this all my life, and I have done it.”