Reigning Olympic and World Champion Claressa Shields (Flint, Mich.) had quite the wait before her 2016 Olympic Games opener in Rio de Janeiro. Twenty-two sessions of Olympic boxing came and went before the middleweight champion got the chance to step in to the ring. She finally got her opportunity on Wednesday afternoon at Riocentro Pavilion 6. For the first time in Rio de Janeiro, an American boxer entered the ring with a full arena cheering them on. Shields gave the fans who came to see her a treat in her quarterfinal contest with Russia’s Iaroslava Iaukushina.
Shields began to unleash her signature right hand and left hooks over the second minute of the first round and swept the judges scorecards in her opening round of the 2016 Olympics. She continued to heat up in the second round and controlled the pace of the bout with defense and heavy shots to the delight of the crowd. For the first time in the Olympics, a U-S-A chant stuck without being booed down, a sign of respect for the Olympic champion. She came out aggressive in the third round of her quarterfinal bout, exerting her dominance on her Russian opponent. Shields entered the fourth round with a convincing lead in the bout but she kept her foot on the gas, firing fast, explosive shots from every angle of the ring. She closed the show with a thunderous left hook that led to a standing eight count in the final seconds of the bout. Shields opened the Olympic Games with a wide, unanimous decision to move on to the semifinals.
“I wanted to go out there and outbox her from the outside, use my jab and use my right hand but I just couldn’t get her timing. She didn’t want to get close enough. After she hit me a couple times, I was like I’m going to have to take it to the inside with her because it was hard for me to get her timing. I hit her with a lot of good jabs though, a lot of good right hands. It wasn’t as sharp as I wanted it to be. I just did a good job transitioning. As far as overall performance, about a C,” Shields said. “I definitely got the rust off. The game plan was to go out there and fight her like I did when I fought her in 2014 but this time my body just wouldn’t do it. She just kept swinging all wild. Whenever I got close to her, I couldn’t get her timing so I just fought her on the inside and I did a great job at that. I beat her with every combination on the inside.”
Shields didn’t compete until the 11th day of competition but she made the wait worthwhile. “I’ve been waiting but the wait is over. I’m glad to get my first fight out of the way. I’ll be resting up the rest of today and then tomorrow and then I’m back at it again on the 19th. I’m excited. I’m glad I was able to get the first fight out the way. I definitely got some ring rust off. I’m taking it one fight, one round at a time. I’m definitely looking forward to my next opponent,” she said.
The returning Olympic champion made it clear that she is only in Rio for one thing. “I’m definitely prepared to be here. I’ve had more time than anyone else on my team to prepare. I’ve been in training camp almost three months. I’m here to get an Olympic gold medal. I’m not here to settle for bronze and silver, it’s not my thing. I want to be a two-time Olympic gold medalist and I think I’m getting pretty close. I’ve got two more fights,” Shields said.
Shields will be back in the ring at Riocentro on Friday at 3:30 p.m. Brazil time (2:30 p.m. ET) for her semifinal bout with Kazakhstan’s Dariga Shakimova. A victory in Friday’s match will advance Shields on to the gold medal bout.
Bantamweight Shakur Stevenson (Newark, N.J.) will compete in his semifinal bout tomorrow at 2:30 p.m. local time (1:30 p.m. ET) against Russia’s Vladimir Nikitin. A Stevenson victory tomorrow would clinch his spot in the finals.
165 lbs/75: Claressa Shields, Flint, Mich./USA dec. Iaroslava Iaukushina, RUS, 3-0