The Other Six: With Olympics Out of Reach, Dreams Of A World Championship
Friday, May 11, 2012
A chance to box in the 2012 Olympic Games has brought more women than ever before to the seventh Women's World Boxing Championship in Qinhuangdao, China. The tournament's three Olympic weight classes are packed with competitors -- 77 countries have invested time and money in hopes that their female fighters can make it to the Games in London. But some of the most impressive women in Qinhuangdao are not fighting for a spot in London. That includes six members of Team USA, who lost the battle to fight in the Olympics at the US team trials in February. Now, plus or minus a few pounds, they are fighting in the World Championships to show they can't be stopped.
Two dozen American women showed up at this year's Olympic Team Trials in Spokane, WA with their sights fixed on one thing: first place. Marlen Esparza, Queen Underwood and Claressa Shields came out on top. That meant there were 21 boxers summoned by the announcer to pick up their pass books after losing their last fight. There was no consolation prize, no medals, not even the standard issue USA Boxing sweat suit.
Backstage there were lots of tears and more than a few hushed whispers about unfair judges and referees, as the boxers tried to soften the blow of their losses. Franchon Crews lamented that her corner had let her down. Tyrieshia Douglas speculated the tournament was rigged. Tiara Brown had put off working to train full time and the only thing she had to her name was her plane ticket back home. “There is no Plan B," said Brown. "This is plan A, B, C...to Z.” Many of the boxers talked about going pro. Or quitting.
Almost no one talked about heading to Colorado the following week to qualify for Team USA in a non-Olympic weight class. The tournament was scheduled for just six days after the biggest fight of these boxers lives and for many would require changing weight classes. Alex Love balked at the idea of shaving off six pounds. Her small frame was already lean at 112 lbs. Tiara Brown said she was done with the amateurs. "There is no support, no reason to keep doing this," Brown said.
Tiffanie Hearn, after a heartbreaking one-point decision, wondered aloud about her next steps. "I'm too old for this," she said with her head in a towel. "I'm 27. I can't keep doing this."
But six days later, the same women were lacing up their boots and gloves at Fort Carson, CO for the 2012 USA Boxing National Tournament. Alex Love had been living on toast and coffee for a week and made super flyweight (106lbs). Christina Crews added pounds and registered at 119 pounds. Tiara Brown spent the week making phone calls to get donations for her flight to Colorado and was back to her usual weight class, 125 pounds from the weight she fought at in the trials. Mikaela Mayer said she liked finally having a little more meat on her body, having moved up to 141. Raquel Miller, the surprise of the Trials with only two years in the game, registered at 154. Franchon Crews and Tiffanie Hearn both upsized to 178 pounds.
They dominated the tournament. All but Tiffanie Hearn qualified for the team. Two months later, all nine former foes, plus a heavyweight, Victoria Perez, traveled together as a team to Conwall, Ontario for the Continental Championships. It was an exhibition tournament, their future didn't hinge on their performance this time. Just their reputation as Team USA 2012. They put on a great show. They joked with each other, cheered each other on from the bleachers and made an unprecedented medal sweep: six gold, one silver, two bronze.
As Alex Love said in an interview after her decision to compete again, "I have to. It's what champions do."