Queen Underwood warms up during a women's boxing practice at the London… (Patrick Semansky / Associated…)
LONDON -- The good people of the London Olympic Organizing Committee, bless their souls, just don't get it.
On an afternoon set aside to celebrate the fact that the Summer Games have finally reached gender parity with the introduction of women's boxing, local organizers spoiled things by sending eight women in form-fitting Lycra outfits into the ring first to pantomime boxing moves to the beat of Labelle's "Lady Marmalade."
That seemed an odd way to mark the fact that in these Olympics, for the first time, competition is being held in the same number of sports — 26 — for men and women. That closes a gap that was substantial just 20 years ago, before women were invited to stop dancing in the pregame show and compete alongside men in judo, soccer, wrestling and weightlifting, among other sports.
None of that was lost on the boxers.
"There are so many countries out there that don't have equal rights for women," lightweight Alexis Pritchard of New Zealand said. "So this is for them."
Chungneijang Mery Kom Hmangte of India, the only woman to win six world championships, came out of retirement and changed weight classes to be able to fight here.
"The Olympics are very special," she said after winning her first bout. "Every athlete works to compete at the Olympic Games."
The first U.S. woman to fight in the Olympics wasn't quite as caught up in the moment. In fact, lightweight Queen Underwood of Seattle was in tears after losing a slugfest with hometown favorite Natasha Jonas of Britain, 21-13.
"History doesn't mean anything to me," she said. "The gold medal meant more."
Sunday's loss ends a long, emotional journey for Underwood, who, along with older sister Hazzauna, suffered years of sexual and physical abuse at the hands of their father. She eventually learned to take her rage out in the ring, winning five national titles and a bronze medal in the 2010 world championships.
But against Jonas, who took up boxing to lose weight and hasn't finished better than third in any major tournament, Underwood fell behind early and stayed there. Jonas delivered several thunderous rights that appeared to stun the American. And when Underwood tried to rally in the final two rounds of the four-round bout, Jonas stood toe to toe with her and slugged it out.
"I gave away half my life for this and it just doesn't feel like the reward of being here is enough," Underwood said. "I stuck around just to have this opportunity. I never gave myself a break, I never rested.
"Now I think I'm due for a little bit of break and a little bit of rest. I'm tired. This has been one hell of a journey."
Although the Olympic experience may be over for Underwood, it may just be getting started for women's boxing, said Wu Ching-kuo, president of amateur boxing's international governing body. There are only three weight categories for women in London, as opposed to 11 for the men. But that could change by the next Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
"If women's boxing is successful in London," he said, "I think there is the real possibility that we will ask for more women's boxing in 2016."