Olympic Trials- The Challengers!
Each of them has endured a loss.
Each of them has fought through that loss and will meet the winner of that contest in the ring on Saturday night for a chance to come away as a prospective Olympian poised to compete on the world stage for the opportunity for a final berth at the 2016 Summer Games in Rio.
Each battle for the right to fight in the finals was hard-fought and in some cases, fraught with history as veterans who have encountered each other before in the squared circle knew it was all down to what happens in four rounds of action.
For the reigning Olympic flyweight bronze medalist, Marlen Esparza, it meant redemption and being on a track for what seemed inevitable at the beginning of the week before she was stopped cold by Virginia Fuchs. In defeating, Christina Cruz, a fighter’s fighter who fought a brilliant outsider’s game with angles and heart, Esparza is now pumped up to rewrite the script with Fuchs and come away with what must feel like her rightful place.
In the lightweight division, the 18-year-old, punches-in-bunches phenom, Jajaira Gonzalez, who’d fought Mikaela Mayer to a 2-1 split decision in their battle, came away victorious over 2014 World Championship bronze medalist, and three-time USA Boxing National Champion, Tiara Brown. Gonzalez, a Junior and Youth World Champion, used aggression and pressure to counter Brown’s veteran technical ring savvy in carving out the 3-0 decision.
For former champion Tika Hemingway, contesting for a berth in the finals against reigning Olympic gold medalist Claressa Shields, there was an inevitability to her win over Raquel Miller, even though the battle was closely contested with a lot of back and forth in momentum and opportunities to be exploited. No matter who fights Hemingway, there are always costs. She is hard-hitting and physical in the ring–and while she’s lost once to Shields in the Olympic Trials, she’ll fight just as hard tonight for a chance to win.
Win or lose, the 24 women who have come to Memphis to fight for a place at the Olympics are each momentous in their drive, determination and skills as boxers. It is no easy feat to compete at the level of Olympians, harder still for women, and, in my estimation, hardest for female boxers who not only must seek out opportunities for support during their four-year odyssey for a place on the team, but must also endure the slights and prejudices of a wider public that rarely support women in the ring. That it has come down to the three contests tonight is miraculous, but let us not forget all of the days and nights of training and competing in rinky-dink rings with barely enough money for car fare. That USA Boxing has developed a cadre of elite fighters it supports for this go around is fantastic, but there needs to be more. More excitement, more opportunity and much, much more respect.
Watching many of these young women compete at the National Women’s Golden Gloves in July, my heart was overwhelmed by the bravery and humbleness they exhibited both in the ring and out. As a body sport, boxing teaches humility and to step inside the ropes is to exhibit physical and mental strength that is honed through thousands of hours of hard, hard work.
So whatever happens tonight, who ever winds up our Olympians, do applaud all of the women who have fought and dreamed. They deserve it.