|Claressa Shields, left, defeated Kazakhstan's Marina Volnova in a middleweight 75-kg semifinal. (AP/Patrick Semansky)|
Seventeen-year-old American female boxer Claressa Shields is one win away from a gold medal.
The medal would be her first, and it would be groundbreaking on a lot of levels. This is the first Olympics with female boxing as a sport. Shields, the youngest boxer in the field, represents a new kind of power for female athletes. Could she be the next truly inspiring thing about boxing? I can only hope.
On Wednesday Shields decisively defeated Kazakhstan's Marina Volnova, 29-15, to move on to the gold medal match against Russia's Nadezda Torlopova, who got by China's Jinzi Li in a 12-10 decision. The two will fight for the gold Thursday at 12:15 p.m, ET. Against Volnova, Shields won each of the four rounds, none by fewer than two points. She knocked down Volnova twice.
Shields earned a bye in the opening round of the tournament, but if she's to win the gold she'll have to win three fights in three days.
If you're unfamiliar with one of the most inspiring American stories of these Games, we told you about Shields here on CBSSports.com back in June. She has a layered, incredible, complicated backstory. Father issues. Doesn't live with her mother. Has lived in many different houses in the past three years in order to keep herself focused and her grades at the honor level.
And amid all that? She comes from one of the most crime-ridden cities in America: Flint, Mich. Here's a quick snippet from the linked story.
Shields isn't afraid of her city. She runs around in it, through it, all around it, sometimes going for five- or six-mile lopes. There's a layer of protection provided for her there, one she accepts, and in exchange, her increased fame and presence emboldens the social fabric. For four years now, she's known from afar as the "Boxer Girl." Never once has she felt threatened or worried about getting robbed. But don't mistake this for naïveté. Shields knows people who've been shot, and others who've been shot and killed. "When people talk to me, like, I talked to a lot of dudes who people think are bad," Shields said. "But at the same time, I know some of the guys who are part of the violence, and they push me to stay in the ring."
There are two rings at work here. One outer ring surrounding the physical, actual boxing ring that's built Shields into an emblem. The other is a palpable shield of locals and a community's desire that won't let anyone spoil one of the best things about Flint that the town's seen in years.
If Shields wins Thursday, I'm not sure how much play her gold medal will get nationally. At 17, Shields is incredibly good already. It's scary to think about what she will be in four years, when she'll box in Rio, should she choose to stay that course.
There's not much to judge her against, given we have no previous Olympic champions to compare her to. But female boxers in general haven't normally been this good this young. Shields seems a precedent-setter, regardless. A gold medal Thursday wouldn't be so much a shock as it would a confirmation that the best of America's boxing future has unquestionably arrived.