Olympic gold-medal-winning boxer Claressa Shields, the 2016 Sportswoman of the Year in an Individual Sport, proves that many good things come out of Flint, Michigan. She’s come out on top many times in her career as a champion boxer, grabbing a good deal of gold hardware along the way.
In this summer’s Olympic Games in Rio, Shields became the first American boxer, male or female, to win back-to-back gold medals. She followed up her first gold at the 2012 Games in London — where women’s boxing made its Olympic debut — with another gold medal in Rio de Janeiro.
For her victory in women’s 75kg boxing over the Netherland’s Nouchka Fontijn in a unanimous decision, Shields received the Val Barker Award as the Outstanding Boxer of the Tournament.
Unlike in 2012 when she hid the typical showcase of gold-medal emotions, in Rio, Shields rejoiced publicly by performing a cartwheel in the ring and circling the arena with the American flag in tow after her victory.
Her Olympic win capped an outstanding year for the 21-year-old. She took gold in the women’s 75kg at the 2016 AIBA American Olympic Qualification Tournament in March and followed that with a victory at the AIBA Women’s World Boxing Championships in May.
In June, Shields was ranked first in her division in the International Boxing Association’s world rankings.
Growing up in Flint wasn’t easy for Shields. Her mother struggled with addiction, and her father served time in prison. The future champion began boxing as an 11-year-old in 2006. The gym was where she found her purpose and nurtured a work ethic that has helped her overcome her childhood circumstances.
Shields has punched her way to the top of the podium in a short time. From a child who didn’t talk until she was 5 years old, she has let her powerful hands do all the talking since first entering the ring. Inscribed in the tattoo of the Olympic rings on her right arm are the words, “London and Rio.” On top of that is “2X.” That says it all — almost all — she has her sights set on medaling in the next two Olympiads, 2020 (Tokyo) and 2024.
Now, her Olympic glory stands as a symbol of hope for a community galvanized by their very own local hero; for her family, gold medals mean opportunities never before imagined and a new-found strength drawn from their Olympic champion.
Every year, at our Annual Salute to Women in Sports, we recognize an individual sport athlete and team sport athlete whose performances over a 12-month time span have been exceptional. Past winners include Meryl Davis, Nastia Liukin, Jessica Mendoza and Jackie Joyner-Kersee. Simply put: our Sportswoman of the Year Award is one of the most prestigious in the game. Learn more here.
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