Mr. Sai lost his horse, and everyone thought he was very unlucky. Then the horse came back, bringing with it a herd of wild horses. Now everyone thought Mr. Sai was very lucky. When riding one of the wild horses, Mr. Sai's son was thrown to the ground, breaking his leg. Now everyone thought Mr. Sai was very unlucky. War broke out. All the young men of the village were sent into battle to die. Only Mr Sai's son, because of his broken leg, was spared. Everyone agreed that Mr. Sai was very lucky after all.
Professor Tony told me this Lao Tzu parable in a taxi en route to the Qinhuangdao Pizza Hut. I'd been craving the 'Hut ever since watching Claressa Shields take down a personal pan pizza shortly after losing to Savannah Marshall.
It struck me that for Claressa, too, the loss of a horse was not necessarily a bad thing. In the end, no harm was done. With flyweight Marlen Esparza, Claressa is one of two U.S. women boxers to qualify for the 2012 Olympic Games.
When Savannah had tried to hug Claressa after their match, Claressa turned away. Our lightweight representative, Queen Underwood, was similarly surly in defeat. These were unfortunate displays of wounded ego from our boxers and a missed opportunity for our coaches; a more attentive corner would have forced their fighters to behave with a grace they did not feel.
The day after her first loss, Claressa was brittle and angry, and she looked like she was jumping out of her skin in the stands. It's hard for a woman of action to watch her fate determined by another. But after Savannah outpointed Russia in the semis -- the win that clinched Claressa's Olympic berth -- Claressa was the first to approach her.
"I told her congratulations," Claressa recalled. "And I said I was sorry I didn't congratulate her after the match. I said she had me scared that second round. I wished her luck in London. After all, it's 'cause of her I got there."
Liverpool Rob, who had witnessed the exchange, told me it gave him tears in his eyes: "She's a beautiful, beautiful person, your Claressa, and she's really grown up here." He showed me a photo of the two rivals standing very close to each other with both hands clasped: Tall Savannah with her translucent skin and sleepy eyes, Claressa looking up at her, solemn and dangerous in her USA tracksuit.
"You picked the right time to lose," I told Claressa Shields.
She nodded. "God wanted me to lose. If I hadn't lost, I don't think I would've been interested in how all those other girls fought. How they running around the ring and all. But now I'm finna study all of them."
We were back at Pizza Hut again. All the fights were over and everybody was chowing down, with universal gusto and varying degrees of self-reproach. Bronze medallists Christina Cruz and Mikaela Mayer both felt bittersweet about their tournament finish.
"I would prefer gold, but I guess it's not that bad," said Christina Cruz, who plans to turn pro when she gets back to Hell's Kitchen.
California Girl Mikaela Mayer, who more than anyone else on the U.S. team embodies the old cliche "too pretty to be a boxer," was madder. "It would have been better to get outclassed," she said, shaking her head. "But when you know you could have done better, it really hurts. I should have stayed with the jab and 1,2."
Silver medallist Franchon Crews offered her calimari to everyone. She ate quietly, her perfect blonde coiffure and lavender eye shadow belying the war she'd just endured with Chinese light heavyweight Meiqing Yuan.
"I'm gonna work on my technique," she said, "maybe go to the PALs. And get back to my singing."
Raquel Miller took her pizza to go, as she had celebratory shopping to do. Lovely Raquel was justifiably happy with her new silver medal. She's only been boxing two years, and she's the second best amateur welterweight in the world.
"Somebody called me a prodigy," she said. "What does that mean?"
Then there was a commotion at the door and a young Chinese woman came barreling in, yelling, "Tiara! Tiara!"
"There she is," yawned Tiara Brown, who was still wearing her fighting clothes. Tiara reclined against the booth like a lioness who has just consumed an antelope. The gold medal gleamed against her chest.
Regina wasn't on waitress duty that night, but the Pizza Hut in Qinhuangdao is a happening joint and she'd come in for dinner on her night off. When she saw Tiara's gold medal she began jumping up and down. She led her off into the bowels of the 'Hut for photo opps with locals.
"That girl loves Tiara," Sue told me. "She even came out to see her fight."
Everyone loves Tiara Brown. Lots of us thought she deserved the Most Outstanding Boxer Award, which went to Ireland's Katie Taylor. Tiara stormed through the featherweights with beautiful violence, displaying an enormous heart and slick work on the inside that would make a pro proud. She survived stomach upset, imbalanced scoring, and a shoulder injury that made it hurt to jab to become just the third American woman to win a gold at Worlds after Devonne Canady and Andrecia Wasson.
When Tiara reappeared, Sue asked about her back.
"It's better, thanks to Sarah," Tiara replied.
A warm glow of pride dispelled my pizza coma. Tiara was often at our hotel, grazing the breakfast buffet and napping. When she'd complained of back pain earlier that morning, I rubbed her lumbar spine with Tiger Balm and did a few things to her that I learned in Thailand.
"You helped me win, girl. You helped me win." The featherweight champ put an arm around me. "You can write that in the Huffington Post."
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