By LYDIA WARREN
PUBLISHED: 15:09 EST, 9 August 2012 | UPDATED: 15:31 EST, 9 August 2012
- Claressa Shields, 17, beat Russia’s Nadezda Torlopova, 33, to take gold
- Just two years after she took part in her first international competition
- Teen comes from one of country’s most troubled cities
- Father, who spent 7 years behind bars, discouraged her from ‘boy’s sport’
- Mother has been largely absent and Shields has moved from home to home
- First year women have been able to box at the Olympics
A 17-year-old from Michigan who was discouraged to continue boxing by her father has taken gold at the Olympics in the first year females have competed in the sport.
Middleweight boxer Claressa Shields won the ultimate prize, which she had referred to as ‘my gold medal’ throughout the entire Games, in a 19-12 victory over Russia’s Nadezda Torlopova.
It means she is the only gold medal winner in the 12-member American team, and marks her as the youngest boxer to win an Olympic gold since 16-year-old John Fields of the U.S. won in 1924.
The win, which comes just two years after Shields started on the international circuit, is also in spite of her troubled upbringing and absent parents in one of the nation’s most troubled cities.
Smile of a winner: Seventeen-year-old Claressa Shields from Michigan is named as the winner of the women’s middleweight boxing in the Olympics on Thursday over Nadezda Torlopova of Russia
She grew up in Flint, Michigan, which has the highest violent crime rate in the country for a city of its size, as well as the highest number of murders per capita and devastating unemployment rates.
Shields first met her father, Clarence Shields, when she was nine after he was released from a seven-year prison stint for breaking and entering – and even after, she rarely saw him.
When she confronted her father over his whereabouts, he revealed he was embarrassed about his lack of money and felt he couldn’t face the family, CBS Sports reported.
‘To me, he was never a bad guy,’ Shields told the website. ‘I spent a whole lot of time with him, and then he’d disappear. I was like, if he wants to be a father, OK, but if not, well I went a whole long time without a dad. I can accept it and live with it.’
Fighter: The victory makes her the most successful boxer on Team USA; no men won medals this Olympics
Joy: Shields celebrates her medal. It is the first time women’s boxing has taken place at the Olympics
But her father did want to exercise some fatherly influence over her – when it came to boxing.
She first started the sport for fun after a friend, a boy, bet her she could not last a week training at Berston, which offers a free boxing program. When her father found out, he said no.
He claimed that it was a sport for men, and his daughter should have no part in it.
‘I told him, “If you’re going to give me a reason not to do something, give me a better reason than just that I’m a girl, ’cause that don’t fly”,’ Shields said.
Shields’ mother, Marcella Adams, was also largely absent. She often decided to pick up and leave at a moment’s notice, leaving Shields to be passed from relatives to friends since she was born.
Not giving up: Her father Clarence Shields, pictured watching his daughter on TV, told her she could not do the sport. She only met him when she was nine after he finished a jail sentence
Determined: Shields, who first began boxing when a boy friend bet her she couldn’t do it, is pictured training
On her own: Shields, pictured during a shoot for Sports Illustrated, constantly moved between relatives’ and friends’ homes as her mother often moved away and then returned
In the past year alone, the athlete has lived in four different homes – which she says is a result of her own decision to leave her mother’s for good.
She moved in with her mother in December 2010 after her grandmother, who she lived with at the time, passed away. But after staying with Adams, her grades and health began to slip.
‘You can’t live boxing at the gym, then go home and not eat right and be well,’ Shields said. ‘The decision to leave was all me. Nobody needs to feel sorry for me.’
After moving in with an aunt and then a friend, she finally moved in with her boxing coach, Jason Crutchfield, his girlfriend and their six-year-old son, Jayden, in the Flint suburb of Mount Morris.
Eyes on the prize: Throughout the competition, she has often called the ultimate prize ‘my gold medal’
Support: Shields, who begins her senior year of high school this fall, is pictured with her stepmother
‘She needed it,’ Crutchfield said. ‘I’ve been kind of hard on her lately. I’m focused on getting this gold medal for her, so I wanted to lighten up the load off.’
He said that he first met Shields when she was 14, and immediately knew she was capable of making the Olympics. He added that her energy and stamina are that of an average male fighter four or five years her senior.
‘Her ability to focus on what’s she’s fighting is kind of outstanding. No matter what’s going on around her, and what’s happening, she’s able to focus on what’s happening in the ring,’ he said.
And Shields has undoubtedly been ready to unleash that power throughout her entire Olympics journey, often tweeting about ‘my gold medal’ and how she’s ‘ready to handle business’.
Speaking to CBS, she added that she has fought through adversity and there’s no way she’s veering off the straight path.
No chance: At 17, Shields is nearly half the age of her Russian opponent, 33-year-old Torlopova
No chance: Her coach said she has the stamina and energy of a man four to five years her senior
Success: Shields lifts her arms in celebration after winning her fight against Russia’s Nadezda Torlopova
‘I have friends smoking stuff, but they’d never offer me a drink, or hit me up to smoke a blunt,’ she said. ‘That doesn’t help me with what I can achieve.’
Last October, she won her weight class at the National PAL Boxing Championships in Toledo, which qualified her for the U.S. Olympic trials in February
Shields, who will be a senior at high school next year, made the age cutoff by just two months.
With her gold medal she has proven to be the most successful boxer on Team USA; none of the male competitors placed in the top three and flyweight Marlen Esparza won a bronze.
Back home in Flint, her friends and family – including her father Clarence – gathered to watch her televised bouts in bars and community centres.
Disbelief: Shields is overjoyed as she celebrates her gold medal on the podium on Thursday
Winners: Nadezda Torlopova of Russia, right, took silver while Marina Volnova of Kazakhstan, left, and Li Jinzi of China, second left, took bronze. Grinning, Shields shows off her gold
Bryant Nolden, a councilman, told the Detroit News: ‘She’s a rose that grew out of a concrete jungle. If a rose can grow through concrete, you know it has to be very resilient.’
After her dazzling performance in the ring – even sticking her tongue out Torlopova in the final round – she gasped in shock as she was announced the winner, lifting her arms to cheers from the crowd.
The Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton, will no doubt be sore that she left just before the nail-biting match after watching British boxer Nicola Adams take the featherweight crown.
On the podium, Shields flashed a wide open-mouthed smile before holding her hand over her heart to sing the national anthem.
Life may have dealt her a few knocks in her 17 years, but she has proved she can hit back even harder.