American teen wins gold in first women's program

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LONDON -- Claressa Shields ducked one punch, deftly leaned away from another, and stuck her tongue out at her Russian opponent. Just an American teenager having a little fun.

After all, Nadezda Torlopova is nearly twice Shields' age and about half her speed. And Shields, 17, had to laugh at any boxer trying to get between her and a historic Olympic gold medal.

The middleweight from Flint, Mich., beat Torlopova, 19-12, Thursday, capping her rapid ascent through women's boxing with a title in its Olympic debut.

"This was something I wanted for a long time, even when boxing wasn't going all right, even when my life wasn't going all right," said Shields, who found sanctuary in a boxing gym during a rough childhood.

"All I wanted was a gold medal, and I kept working toward it, even when people were saying I couldn't do it. I'm too young. I couldn't do it. There were girls who were going to beat me because of better experience, more experience. I proved them all wrong."

Shields did it in style -- shuffle-stepping, brawling and even winning over a crowd that showed up to cheer Irish lightweight Katie Taylor and British flyweight Nicola Adams, who also won gold medals.

Shields had her hand over her heart on the medal podium when she abruptly burst into laughter, her head snapping back almost as if she had just been punched in the face.

"I'm surprised I didn't cry," Shields said.

Shields, Taylor and Adams triumphed in rapid succession on the final day of the London Games' landmark tournament, claiming 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 for Taylor, Shields was one of the breakout stars.

Shields found her purpose with coach Jason Crutchfield at Berston Field House in Flint after her father -- who spent seven years of Claressa's childhood in prison -- infused her with a passion for boxing.

Even Torlopova, 33, had to applaud Shield's ascent.

"She's young, after all, and she's quicker," Torlopova said.

"It happens that speed overcame experience."

Shields capped her 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. Shields won the 12-member American team's only gold medal in London, and flyweight Marlen Esparza took a bronze, but the winningest nation in Olympic boxing history got no medals from its men's team for the first time.

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.

Taylor's victory, a 10-8 win against Russia's Sofya Ochigava, was a defensive fight and perhaps the least memorable part of the afternoon.

Adams got nearly as much love for stunning world champion Ren Cancan of China, 16-7.

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."



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