Thursday 29 September 2016

Walsh's pupil makes history as Irish boxers find consolation

Sean McGoldrick

Published 22/08/2016 | 02:30

Claressa Shields won her second Olympic gold medal. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Claressa Shields won her second Olympic gold medal. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Billy Walsh celebrates. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

While the Irish boxers return home empty-handed from the Rio Olympics, there was a small measure of consolation for them at the end of a fraught tournament.

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Four of the boxers who ended the ambitions of the Irish squad ended up on the podium.

Uzbek flyweight Shahobiddin Zoirov, who looked a class apart when dismissing the challenge of Brendan Irvine, took gold in the 52kg class. In yesterday's final, 23-year-old Zoirov fashioned a unanimous 3-0 win over the Russian Misha Aloyan.

The boxers who beat Paddy Barnes and Joe Ward were themselves beaten in the next round, confirming the view that the Irish duo performed way below their best in Rio.

However, the fighters who outpointed Michael Conlan, Steven Donnelly and Katie Taylor all leave Rio with medals, while Mexican Misael Rodriguez, who received a walk over after Michael O'Reilly was sent home for failing a dope test, advanced to the middleweight semi-final.

Conqueror

Conlan's conqueror Vladimir Nikitin was forced to concede a walk over in the semi-final to American Skakur Stevenson as the Russian failed a medical as a result of facial injuries.

While the Irish boxers failed to win an Olympic medal for the first time since the 2004 Games, it was a story of fulfilment for Team USA, now coached by Billy Walsh.

As expected, Claressa Shields retained her middleweight title yesterday, giving the US their first boxing gold medal of the tournament.

It was also Walsh's first time to be in the corner of an Olympic gold medallist - he wasn't there when Katie Taylor won in London four years ago.

Shields brought one gold medal to the ring with her and left with two hanging around her neck, making US boxing history.

As a gesture of confidence, having the 2012 gold at hand in the expectation of showing it off with another took some beating.

But so too does Shields, who has not lost a fight since 2012 and is her country's first double boxing champion in 112 years.

"At London I knew I was going to win and I knew I was going to win here," Shields said after the unanimous decision over Nouchka Fontijn of the Netherlands.

"I've worked so hard to be here. Not everybody can be an Olympic gold medallist. I'm a two-time Olympic gold medallist. Oh my god, I can't believe I just said that," she exclaimed.

Shields knew long before the result was confirmed, and the winner's hand raised, that the gold was hers.

Climbing out of the ring after the announcement, she ran around the arena with the US flag held aloft before wrapping it around her.

On the podium, she slipped the gold won in London four years ago around her neck to stand and sing the anthem with the two together.

"I just wanted to win the first two rounds clear, that's all I wanted, when I came back to the corner they were saying you got that round, you got that round. I said I have to be smart," she said of the fight.

Shields won the first three rounds 10-9 10-9 10-9 but the fourth was closer, with two of the judges giving it to her Dutch opponent.

Equally significantly, two of the American male boxers also won medals. Stevenson, their 19-year-old wonderkid, nearly lived up to his billing as he almost secured what would have been a sensational win over the brilliant Cuban Robeisy Ramirez in the bantamweight decider.

The Cuban prevailed on a majority 2-1 decision to achieve the honour of winning Olympic titles in two different weights - he took the gold medal in the flyweight category in London, beating Conlan in the semi-final.

The other US boxer to win a medal was light-fly Nico Hernandez, who secured a bronze.

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