U.S. boxer Claressa Shields battles Kazakhstan's Marina Volnova… (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)
LONDON -- Marlen Esparza couldn't stop sobbing. And Claressa Shields wanted to weep.
There may be no crying in baseball but there were plenty of boxers shedding tears at the ExCeL Centre in London's Docklands after the women's Olympic semifinals Wednesday. Esparza showed emotion after she lost and had to settle for a bronze medal — the first medal won by the U.S. in women's boxing — and Shields because victory means she will fight again for the gold Thursday.
"I'm still kind of shocked," said Shields, a high school junior from Flint, Mich., who wasn't old enough to compete in Olympic boxing until her 17th birthday in March. "I'm thinking 'Is it really true? Am I really going to fight for a gold tomorrow?'
"I'm not dreaming no more. It's right there. I just have to grab it."
Shields earned her way to the middleweight final by pounding Kazakhstan's Marina Volnova, 29-15. The fight was so one-sided that Turkish referee Yasar Cinar stopped the carnage with a standing eight count twice in the final two rounds.
"That's the performance I wanted everybody to see," Shields said. "I was able to put my combinations together. Land my hard, clean shots. I was able to do a lot of things that people don't see women doing.
"I felt like Rocky Balboa when he beat the Russian."
The afternoon didn't go as well for Esparza. Her game plan was to spend the first half of her flyweight fight measuring her opponent, Ren Cancan of China, who had a two-point lead after three rounds.
And though she won the second half of the bout as planned, Esparza didn't do enough to overcome that deficit. Ren beat Esparza, 10-8,and will fight Britain's Nicola Adams for the gold.
"I really thought I got away with it," Esparza said. "When I was only down by two, I was like 'OK, I can do that.' Because I was starting to find my range."
Shortly after the decision was announced, she covered her face with a stars-and-stripes bandanna and began to cry.
"I can't be angry about winning a medal at all. But it wasn't my goal," she said of her bronze. "Any medal is a blessing at the Games. [But] I thought I was going to win."
However, as the first U.S. woman to win a medal in the Olympic debut of women's boxing Esparza, 23, can take comfort in knowing she has helped build a foundation for a sport to which she's devoted nearly her half life.
"I'm hoping that whatever we're doing here — not just myself but everybody else — it kind of gives us more of a force to get in as a polished sport," said Esparza, who is giving up boxing to return to college and, eventually, medical school.
"I'm done. That was my last bout," she said. "My body's falling apart."
Shields, on the other hand, is getting started. She has a date Thursday in the final with Russia's Nadezda Torlopova, a former world and European heavyweight champion who is 16 years her senior.
"At the end I wanted to cry," Shields said of the realization she would be fighting for a gold. "I don't feel any pressure. But at the end of the day I've got to get in the ring and I've got to fight."