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Sarah Deming

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Women's Boxing World Championships in QInhuangdao -- Round of Sixteen

Posted: 05/16/2012 2:46 pm

Team USA's got the blues. Not even the arrival of journalist Raquel Ruiz could dispel the gloom when Queen Underwood lost her Olympic bid.

Raquel sashayed across the arena floor in her peep-toe wedges, zipped up my dress, charmed some documentarians, and embraced U.S. flyweight Marlen Esparza, who had qualified for the London Games earlier in the afternoon. Then she stood by the railing next to me and Sue Johnson, staring into the dual rings.

"I am so sad for Queen," she said.

Queen Underwood was the second of our three Olympic weight classes to fall when she lost her match against Norway's Ingrid Egner. The tall Norwegian bared her white mouthpiece in a mocking grin as she jabbed and clinched her way to a narrow 26-25 win.

The sole lightweight quota place for our continent will now go to Brazil's Adriana Araujo, who punished her tough North Korean opponent with lead rights so hard you could hear them hit flesh.

After the match I took John from NBC over to interview Adriana while her conditioning coach, Igor, translated. Adriana was icing her right eye and looked sexy and spent. She told us about her semi-pro soccer career and how she'd first boxed to lose weight. When John asked what she liked to do for fun, she answered with a single word that Igor translated as "dating," but I just looked it up and got "flirt, court, or woo." You can always count on a Brazilian to have her priorities straight.

You box the way you live, and the problems of the U.S. team are the problems of the U.S. nation: lack of leadership, ineffective aggression, and isolationism. I see a lot of national federations building bridges with each other -- Brazil went to Australia for a training camp before this tournament and the two teams chant for each other from the stands -- but USA Boxing is standoffish and mired in political infighting. Significantly, there is no U.S. referee judge at this tournament.

When our girls win, they are winning on pure talent and on the skills they carry with them from home. Mikaela Mayer, who has the gold standard of home coaches in Al Mitchell, showed beautifully in her win against New Zealand, and Marlen Esparza had the good sense to bring her trainer with her to China.

When our girls lose, they are losing because they do not know how to adjust to the strategic, point-scoring boxing of the experienced international fighters, and no one is helping them learn.

This wouldn't be such a big deal if we paid our girls a living wage to train -- or if there were a lucrative professional career in their future -- but the Olympic dream is all many of these girls have. Light flyweight Alex Love, who lost to a tough, rangy girl from Kazakhstan, is joining the army. I'm not really sure what Queen Underwood will do. It could be tough to go back to pipe-fitting.

"It is hard to stop boxing," said South African coach Andile Mofu. "This sport is like a drug that you can't detect."

Young Claressa Shields could still qualify for one of the two middleweight quota places if Savannah Marshall does well enough. Marshall stayed alive Tuesday night by outpointing Norway, but her next bout against China's Jinzi Li will be hard to win. The Chinese fighter is absurdly large with an excellent, elusive defense. Li seemed to enjoy a certain home field advantage in her oddly scored 14-4 victory over the strong, aggressive Thai boxer Sudapom Seesondee.

Out of 305 boxers, the field has now been narrowed to just 80. That's 225 sad girls in the stands. The tragedy sneaks up on you.

"It's very hard. You have to be very strong," said Lital Zastlin, the sole member of Team Israel. Lital wears braces and is tall and colt-like with bright eyes. I caught up with her in the hallway of the football school after her loss to Sri Lanka.

"You can fly to the end of the world just to lose in eleven minutes. But just to be here, to put the flag of my country here, it is something."

During the opening ceremony I got goosebumps when I saw Afghanistan in their headscarves. Their two fighters both lost in quick stoppages, but these losses mean more than most wins. At home these women are not allowed to box in front of men.

"It's so beautiful when I think about those Afghan girls," said U.S. light heavyweight Franchon Crews. "Even though we're fighting in the ring, it's a movement around the world."

 
 
 
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