At this rate the IOC will be wondering why it took until 2012 to have women’s boxing in the Olympics. In fact it wasn’t until the 1997 that the British Boxing Association first sanctioned bouts between women, Sweden, the bastion of gender equality was the first to do so in 1988.
Aside from the grace and evident skill of these women boxers, it is the crowds that have answered any remaining critics of the sport, turning the ExCel Arena on the Thames everyday into what seems like a packed Madison Square Garden title fight night.
These girls, all of them, have blazed a trail for women’s boxing, sport and not insignificantly for equality in daily life as well which, much as we like to pat ourselves on the back about, still has a long way to go before we redress. Many ask, ‘where is feminism today?’, yesterday we saw it in its distilled and raw state, its alive and well and fighting in the ring.
Women’s boxing has always been controversial, it first appeared as an exhibition sport in the Olympics in 1904 but was banned for most of 20th century. Even until this year the prospect of women fighters being made to fight in the ring wearing skirts ‘to differentiate them from men fighters’ seemed a very real possibility. When Cuba coach Pedro Roque, explained why Cuba was not sending female boxers to London 2012, he said that women should be “showing off their beautiful faces, not getting punched in the face”.
Great Britain’s Nicola Adams made history when she became the first women to win an Olympic gold medal in boxing when she defeated in emphatic fashion China’s world Champion flyweight Canan Ren 16-7. She did it in way that was technically dazzling and a joy to watch, with a clean and mesmerising style reminiscent of Muhammad Ali and Sugar Ray Robinson. These women have impressed many of the sports expert commentators. Ching-Kuo Wu, the AIBA president, has said said that the Rio Games would see the number of divisions in women’s boxing increase from three to six. London's women boxers, he said, were "heroes in boxing history".
The biggest noise of the day though was reserved for Ireland’s Katie Taylor who fought off a serious challenge from Russian Sofya Ochigava in the lighweight division to add Olympic gold to her impressive trophy cabinet which includes Irish, European and World cChampionship titles. The darling of Ireland’s passion for sports and the country’s only gold medal so far at these games has been called women’s boxing’s most proficient technical fighter. British Olympic medallist Amir Kahn said that she would challenge most men in her class.
What Katie exudes is class, not only in the ring, but her whole manner, a look of genuine affection for her opponent after the final round and a humility that shames the hubris of men’s professional boxing. Clarissa Shields became the third female fighter to strike gold, managing something none of her male compatriot boxers could do and win a medal.
When the dust settles on this great tournament in London the organisers can look back and see women’s boxing as one of its greatest successes.
By Hugo Mc Cafferty