By Michael O’Neill
Part One : The Olympic weights – 51kg, 60kg and 75kg.
Saturday was finals day in the 7th AIBA Women's World Boxing championships in Qinhuangdao, North East China which has also served as the only female Olympic Qualifier. Once again the main focus of attention was on the three Olympic weights 51 kg, 60kg and 75kg. We had already seen many surprises this week none more so than in the 75kg category where favourite, Canada’s Mary Spencer and United States sensation Claressa Shields were early casualties.
Out too went China’s AIBA World Champion Li Jinzi and leading Russian, Nadezhda Torlopova - and so it came to pass that the final was between Azeri, Yelena Vystropova and ‘birthday girl’, England’s Savannah Rose Marshall , 21 today.
Marshall, from Hartlepool in North Eastern England,, started slowly but gradually gained the upper hand and held a 7:5 lead at half way.
The third round was a rough one for ‘the silent assassin’ (as Marshall is known to the British Press corps) and she was on the receiving end of an excellent uppercut which left her with a bloody nose. They breed them tough in Hartlepool though and this setback spurred her on – she kept in front, albeit narrowly, and ended a deserving 17:15 winner.
What better way to celebrate a 21st Birthday than winning a World title and qualify for the Olympics? A birthday that Savannah will long remember.
She told BBC Sport: "I was only 12 when I walked into a boxing ring, I loved it ever since and now I'm world champion."
"It hasn't even sunk in that I'm going to the Olympics yet. It's crazy," Marshall added.
This has been a good week for the England team with all three of their Olympic entrants duly qualifying for London 2012 . Today, one wondered if Nicola Adams, in the 51kg Olympic flyweight class could ‘upset’ host nation favourite, Ren Cancan?
China's two-time AIBA World Champion and Asian Games winner Ren Cancan was quick off the mark and had a four points lead at the end of the second round. She retained that advantage throughout despite a good comeback by Adams.
Today there was little doubt but Cancan deserved her win here as she had done two years ago in Barbados but come August in London, one feels that Adams may well improve sufficiently to reverse that result. Only time will tell. She will need though to get off to a better start.
"This hasn't dented my confidence. It's been a great experience and I've had an amazing time," said Adams.
"I qualified for the Olympics and that's what I came to do. In London, it'll be on my own turf so the score will be different then.
"I'll be going for gold. I'll get a bit fitter and have a bit more technical ability."
As for the 24 years old champion: "I was happy to get the title," said Ren after the fight was over . "I practised so hard for this moment."
"My next goal would be London Olympics. I am starting to analyse my opponents to face in London. It would be my glory to win something at the Olympics."
The highlight of the day was the third meeting of Russia’s Sofya Ochigava and Ireland’s Katie Taylor in the 60kg Lightweight final. Ochigava was confident she could reverse the 10:5 defeat she suffered at Taylor’s hands in the European championship decider last October in Rotterdam .
This was no classic but a tense and tight duel between two great technical boxers, the scores were tied at 4-4 at the end of the first two rounds, but Taylor held her nerve and composure and led (8-6) as the bell tolled at the end of the third. She added a further 3 points to her opponents 1 and thus claimed her fourth World title in a row, on a scoreline 11:7
Katie herself later told the assembled media : “It’s amazing to win four world titles … it was such a tense fight, so close all the way through, a real game of patience and nerves,” she said. That is not surprising as both have a tremendous respect for one another nowadays as could be seen after the presentation ceremony.
“I just tried to concentrate. She was feinting constantly and I was feinting constantly. She’s a complete counterpuncher and it was always going to be difficult for her once she goes a few points down. I’m just glad I’m going home with a gold medal “, she told ‘The Irish Times’
Before the fight, coach and Dad ,Peter had forecast that it would be a very technical battle for supremacy.
“She’s a great boxer, the Russian girl, and we knew it was going to be tactical, but Thank God Katie held her nerve. This was not a fight for the armchair viewers, this was one for the connoisseurs,” he said.
“I’m just so glad to be going into the Olympics in the best shape I’ve ever been in,” a delighted Taylor herself added
“Sofya is a fantastic boxer and she’s always been at the very, very top. We have a great rivalry going on. We’re great friends outside the ring but inside it’s different,” she went on.
“It’s an honour to represent my country and to go away hearing ‘Amhrán na bhFiann’ is a great feeling.”
Again today she repeated her call that the “Tripartite Commission Invitation places” be given to the very best competitors in all weight classes so that the world can see in London just how good women’s boxing really is.
“Hopefully they make the right decisions when handing out those wildcards. We need to showcase women’s boxing,” she said.
The perfect end to a perfect day for the champion came when she was presented with the “Best Boxer of the Championships” award.
Of course it was not long before the Politicians added their words of praise. Ireland’s President, Michael D. Higgins said it was a great achievement which showed once again that Katie Taylor is "one of our greatest ever competitors at international level".
Shortly after the Taoiseach Enda Kenny added: “ Congratulations to Katie Taylor. This was another brilliant performance. She is an outstanding and true champion. She has made us all proud and lifted the heads of the Irish people”.
Minister of Sport Michael Ring took the opportunity to tell the Irish nation : “Katie has shown how dedication, tenacity, commitment and determination can achieve world titles and gold medals. She is a great role model for her sport, and I hope her fantastic achievement will encourage other women to take up her sport. She is a superb ambassador for Women’s Boxing in Ireland and I congratulate her on her Gold Medal. We are tremendously proud that she will be flying the flag for Women’s Boxing in Ireland in the London Olympics 2012”.
A complete list of the qualifiers from these three weight classes can be found here. Do remember though that the Tripartite Invitation places are yet to be announced.
Part Two: The best of the rest of finals day at the AIBA 7th Women's World Championships.
“China's President's Cup winner 20-year-old Xu Shiqi opened her light flyweight final with more effective punches against Philippines' AIBA Women's World Championships bronze medallist Josie Gabuco and led by 5:3 after four minutes fight. The Chinese boxer who moved down a division before the tournament lost the third round and had only one point advantage before the final frame. The 25-year-old Filipino fighter changed the fighting distance in the final round and that resulted a close victory for Gabuco which was the first ever gold medal for the Philippines in the history of the AIBA Women's World Championships.
Russia's AIBA World Championships bronze medallist Aleksandra Kuleshova is only 22 but she is member of the national squad since 2008. Her final opponent was Italy's veteran Terry Gordini who caused the biggest surprise in the bantamweight class during this tournament advancing to the gold medal contest. Gordini could keep the safe distance and had only two points deficit after two rounds but Kuleshova were more effective in the second part of their contest and won the only Russian gold medal in Qinhuangdao.
US National Champion and Panamerican Champion 24-year-old Tiara Brown who lives in Florida fought for the featherweight gold medal against Poland's EU Champion and powerful Sandra Kruk who used her magnificent fighting style during the whole competition. The tallest US boxer had more than enough advantage after the second round but Kruk also stepped up to the gas and almost turned their spectacular battle in Qinhuangdao where finally Brown won the World Championships' title.
DPR Korea's AIBA World Championships bronze medallist and former Asian Champion 28-year-old Pak Kyong Ok met with Poland's European Youth Champion talented Magdalena Stelmach at the final of the light welterweight division. The tallest Polish boxer tried to use up her longer hands while Pak operated with quick jabs during the contest. The North Korean boxer was more effective and motivated from the first seconds and that resulted for her a 10:5 triumph. Pak's victory was the seventh North Korean World Championships' title in the history of the competition since 2001.
Ukraine's European Championships silver medallist Maria Badulina eliminated Netherlands' top favourite Marichelle De Jong in the welterweight semi-final and advanced to the gold medal contest where she met with US National Champion Raquel Miller who lives in San Francisco and began boxing only in 2010. Both boxers were fluttery in the first frame while Badulina dominated the bout from the second round and used up her longer hands against her North American opponent. The Ukrainian boxer had and excellent right jab in the last round and finally won the gold medal defeating her rival by 14:8.
China's AIBA Youth World Champion and current Asian Champion 19-year-old Yuan Meiqing eliminated Russia's current European Champion Svetlana Kosova in the semi-final and met with multiple Panamerican Champion US star Franchon Crews for the gold. Following the first equal tactical round Yuan Meiqing used up the local fans' extra energies and operated with serious punches which resulted for her an impressive 18:11 victory over her US rival. Yuan Meiqing who lives in Tianjin City became the youngest gold medallist of the 7th AIBA Women's World Boxing Championships.
China's most popular team member, AIBA World Championships bronze medallist and Asian Champion Li Yunfei made her real breakthrough in Qinhuangdao where she fought for the heavyweight gold against Kazakhstan's Asian Championships silver medallist and Turkish Prime Ministry Tournament winner southpaw Yulduz Mamatkulova. Li had only one point advantage after the first round but she build up a six points leading before the last frame. The Chinese competitor received a warning in the final round and Mamatkulova keep moving to forward but Li won their contest by clear 21:13 which resulted the third gold medal for the host and happy nation.
And finally, if you missed the action in China you can find all of today’s finals here : http://aiba.org/en-US/2012/Womens2012.aspx