Women’s boxing looks to grow after Olympic debut

Women’s boxing was a big hit in its first Olympics.

It could get even bigger in Rio.

The debut tournament got rave reviews from fans, boxers and

Olympic officials who loved the sold-out crowds, evenly matched

bouts and the emergence of stars on the international stage,

including U.S. teenager Claressa Shields, Ireland’s Katie Taylor

and Britain’s Nicola Adams.

IOC President Jacques Rogge says he’s thrilled the competition

removed any doubt of the sport’s Olympic worthiness. AIBA President

Wu Ching-Kuo is determined to at least double the Olympic field for

the 2016 Games in Brazil.

And Taylor can’t wait to see what happens over the next four

years after these four days of history in the London ring.

”Hopefully there are a lot of young girls sitting at home

watching this, and they will realize this is what they can work

towards,” said Taylor, who won gold in the lightweight final.

”This is amazing for women’s boxing.”

Even in an Olympics featuring several milestone achievements for

women, the boxing stood out.

Every session at ExCel arena pulsed with excitement, with each

of Taylor’s three fights turning into a celebration of Irish pride.

Thousands of fans waved flags and wore elaborate green-and-orange

outfits to cheer every punch thrown by the Bray Brawler, just the

ninth gold medalist in Ireland’s Olympic history.

The three British women’s boxers got frenzied receptions, and

the fans quickly realized Shields and Russian lightweight Sofya

Ochigava were singular athletes as well. Shields, the 17-year-old

middleweight with the vicious right hand, made new fans and

established herself as the future of the women’s sport with her

three dominant victories on the way to a gold medal.

”I’ve been to three Olympic Games, six world championships,

three Commonwealth Games, and that was the loudest noise I’ve ever

heard in a boxing arena,” said Terry Edwards, the former coach of

the British team. ”The atmosphere was absolutely fantastic.”

The novelty of the sport wasn’t the only reason for the

excitement. Women’s boxing can be a fascinating sport, frequently

featuring cleaner technique and higher energy than the men’s

amateur sport, and the 36 elite fighters assembled in London put on

a four-day show.

”Everybody is getting to see what we’ve been seeing for 10

years,” said U.S. assistant coach Charles Leverette, whose initial

reservations about the women’s sport vanished long ago. ”You can’t

have a much better competition than that, and it’s only going to

get bigger, too. The atmosphere, the performances, the venue,

everything was great.”

Rogge attended the gold-medal bouts and emerged with the same

feelings.

”It was fantastic. I’m a very happy man,” Rogge said. ”There

has been some criticism of whether women should be boxing, and of

their level and technique. Today we have been vindicated. That was

a good decision. It’s only the beginning.”

Other women’s sports advocates took note, including IOC vice

president Nawal El Moutawakel of Morocco, the first woman from a

predominantly Muslim nation to win an Olympic medal when she won

the 400-meter hurdles at the 1984 Los Angeles Games.

”The combat was beautiful,” El Moutawakel said. ”It was a

wonderful show. They were technical and highly skilled. This was

very important, a huge step. It reminds me of my ’84 hurdles gold

medal.”

Wu, who promoted women’s boxing for Olympic inclusion shortly

after taking over in 2006, was even more succinct about the gold

medal bouts’ importance.

”This is the most important moment in AIBA’s history,” Wu

said.

Women’s amateur boxing seems certain to get an enormous boost at

the local levels, but the tournament appears to be leading to even

more opportunities for female boxers, who don’t have much to look

forward to in the professional ranks.

After the women’s sport’s spectacular success in London, Wu said

AIBA is looking at extending its new professional boxing venture to

women. AIBA is signing dozens of top amateur men, largely from

nations without lucrative pro boxing cultures, to participate in

regular pro fights under the AIBA Professional Boxing (APB) banner

starting in late 2013.

Wu also says he hopes the field in Rio will feature at least 72

female boxers, hopefully more. To do it, the IOC would need to

increase the total number of boxers allowed in the Olympics – which

it didn’t do for London, forcing AIBA to cut a men’s weight class

to cram in a truncated women’s tournament.

”The more categories the better,” said 33-year-old Nadezda

Torlopova, the Russian silver medalist who is retiring to spend

more time with her husband and son. ”Women can go and prove

themselves. Boxing is an Olympic sport, after all.”

No matter what happens with this rapidly growing sport in the

next few years, history was made by Taylor, Shields and Adams, the

British flyweight who won the first gold medal in Olympic history.

The champions and the rest of the field all realize the competition

will only get tougher if this tournament draws better athletes and

more attention to women’s boxing.

The London pioneers can’t wait to see what happens in Rio.

”When you see women’s boxing at the highest level,” British

lightweight Natasha Jonas said, ”how can you argue that women

aren’t just as good as the men?”

AP Sports Writer Stephen Wilson contributed to this story.