Marlen Esparza, first U.S. Olympic women’s boxing medalist, will miss Rio 2016

Marlen Esparza
AP
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Olympic gold medalist Claressa Shields and surprising flyweight Virginia Fuchs won their weight divisions at the U.S. Olympic women’s boxing trials Saturday night.

Lightweight Jajaira Gonzalez beat Mikaela Mayer by unanimous decision in a rematch to force a decisive third bout between the fighters Sunday for the trials championship.

Shields beat rival Tika Hemingway by unanimous decision, while Fuchs eliminated Olympic bronze medalist Marlen Esparza from contention for her second Olympic trip.

Esparza, the first U.S. Olympic women’s boxing medalist and a 2014 World champ, was in the Nike “Snow Day” commercial published Thursday with sports stars including Rob Gronkowski and Carli Lloyd.

The three U.S. trials winners will compete in international Olympic qualifiers next year to earn a berth in the Rio de Janeiro Games.

Shields remained firmly on course for her second Olympic berth, using her international experience and brute punching power to take down her fellow middleweight and greatest personal rival.

The hard-hitting Shields was the only American boxing gold medalist in the London Games at just 17 years old, and she has only solidified her international reign atop the division by going undefeated in the last three years.

“I landed the cleanest and the hardest shots every round, so I knew it was unanimous,” Shields said. “I knew it wasn’t split. … I know from my international experience, as long as I’m landing the cleaner shots, leaning on the ropes doesn’t matter.”

Shields improved to 66-1 in her international amateur career with 40 consecutive victories, including titles at the 2014 world championships and at the Pan-Am Games earlier this year.

“I can’t believe I’m [going to be] a two-time Olympian,” Shields said. “It’s just crazy to think about it. It’s definitely different, and I feel like I was little bit scared going into 2012. I had just had my first loss. This time, I haven’t lost in three years, and I feel like there’s nothing that can stop me at the 2016 Olympics this time around.”

Fuchs edged Esparza for the second time this week, winning both bouts by split decision and completing the most unlikely result of the week with the rematch victory.

“I look forward to the Olympics now,” Fuchs said. “I haven’t made it yet, so when I get home, that’s on my schedule to train for.”

Esparza and Shields were the only Americans to win boxing medals in London, and Esparza has become a popular mainstream athlete with a Cover Girl endorsement deal and commercial appearances for McDonalds and Coca-Cola. Esparza also has a boxing boot made specifically for her by Nike.

But Fuchs upset Esparza’s Rio plan with a gritty performance in the trials against her fellow Houston-area fighter.

“She’s a great fighter, so I knew it was going to be close,” Fuchs said. “It was a little closer than I wanted. … Every fight we’ve had has been real close, so I knew I would have to dig deep and she would have to dig deep to win this. I wanted it more, obviously, because I got the win, but I’ve got to give her credit.”

The 18-year-old Gonzalez rebounded from a split-decision loss to Mayer earlier in the week with a 3-0 decision in the rematch, applying constant pressure and her trademark high-volume punching for a tidy win over her taller opponent.

Gonzalez said she still felt “the first fight (with Mayer) should have been 3-0” in her favor.

“This one, I put it in my head that I had to go non-stop,” Gonzalez added. “Not let her breathe, not let her try to catch her breath. I think my aggression really helped today. I felt stronger.”

The Los Angeles-area natives will meet in a rubber match Sunday.

Gonzalez is a decorated junior fighter with multiple world titles to her credit, but is fighting for a senior division title for the first time.

“I’ve got to do a little better,” Gonzalez said. “I’ve got to do a lot better, actually.”

MORE BOXING: Claressa Shields says she would fight Ronda Rousey

Elena Fanchini, medal-winning Alpine skier, dies at 37

Elena Fanchini
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Italian skier Elena Fanchini, whose career was cut short by a tumor, has died. She was 37.

Fanchini passed away Wednesday at her home in Solato, near Brescia, the Italian Winter Sports Federation announced.

Fanchini died on the same day that fellow Italian Marta Bassino won the super-G at the world championships in Meribel, France; and two days after Federica Brignone — another former teammate — claimed gold in combined.

Sofia Goggia, who is the favorite for Saturday’s downhill, dedicated her win in Cortina d’Ampezzo last month to Fanchini.

Fanchini last raced in December 2017. She was cleared to return to train nearly a year later but never made it fully back, and her condition grew worse in recent months.

Fanchini won a silver medal in downhill at the 2005 World Championships and also won two World Cup races in her career — both in downhill.

She missed the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics because of her condition.

Fanchini’s younger sisters Nadia and Sabrina were also World Cup racers.

USA Boxing to skip world championships

USA Boxing
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USA Boxing will not send boxers to this year’s men’s and women’s world championships, citing “the ongoing failures” of the IBA, the sport’s international governing body, that put boxing’s place on the Olympic program at risk.

The Washington Post first reported the decision.

In a letter to its members, USA Boxing Executive Director Mike McAtee listed many factors that led to the decision, including IBA governance issues, financial irregularities and transparency and that Russian and Belarusian boxers are allowed to compete with their flags.

IBA lifted its ban on Russian and Belarusian boxers in October and said it would allow their flags and anthems to return, too.

The IOC has not shifted from its recommendation to international sports federations last February that Russian and Belarusian athletes be barred, though the IOC and Olympic sports officials have been exploring whether those athletes could return without national symbols.

USA Boxing said that Russian boxers have competed at an IBA event in Morocco this month with their flags and are expected to compete at this year’s world championships under their flags.

“While sport is intended to be politically neutral, many boxers, coaches and other representatives of the Ukrainian boxing community were killed as a result of the Russian aggression against Ukraine, including coach Mykhaylo Korenovsky who was killed when a Russian missile hit an apartment block in January 2023,” according to the USA Boxing letter. “Ukraine’s sports infrastructure, including numerous boxing gyms, has been devastated by Russian aggression.”

McAtee added later that USA Boxing would still not send athletes to worlds even if Russians and Belarusians were competing as neutrals and without their flags.

“USA Boxing’s decision is based on the ‘totality of all of the factors,'” he said in an emailed response. “Third party oversite and fairness in the field of play is the most important factor.”

A message has been sent to the IBA seeking comment on USA Boxing’s decision.

The women’s world championships are in March in India. The men’s world championships are in May in Uzbekistan. They do not count toward 2024 Olympic qualifying.

In December, the IOC said recent IBA decisions could lead to “the cancellation of boxing” for the 2024 Paris Games.

Some of the already reported governance issues led to the IOC stripping IBA — then known as AIBA — of its Olympic recognition in 2019. AIBA had suspended all 36 referees and judges used at the 2016 Rio Olympics pending an investigation into a possible judging scandal, one that found that some medal bouts were fixed by “complicit and compliant” referees and judges.

The IOC ran the Tokyo Olympic boxing competition.

Boxing was not included on the initial program for the 2028 Los Angeles Games announced in December 2021, though it could still be added. The IBA must address concerns “around its governance, its financial transparency and sustainability and the integrity of its refereeing and judging processes,” IOC President Thomas Bach said then.

This past June, the IOC said IBA would not run qualifying competitions for the 2024 Paris Games.

In September, the IOC said it was “extremely concerned” about the Olympic future of boxing after an IBA extraordinary congress overwhelmingly backed Russian Umar Kremlev to remain as its president rather than hold an election.

Kremlev was re-elected in May after an opponent, Boris van der Vorst of the Netherlands, was barred from running against him. The Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled in June that van der Vorst should have been eligible to run against Kremlev, but the IBA group still decided not to hold a new election.

Last May, Rashida Ellis became the first U.S. woman to win a world boxing title at an Olympic weight since Claressa Shields in 2016, taking the 60kg lightweight crown in Istanbul. In Tokyo, Ellis lost 3-0 in her opening bout in her Olympic debut.

At the last men’s worlds in 2021, Robby Gonzales and Jahmal Harvey became the first U.S. men to win an Olympic or world title since 2007, ending the longest American men’s drought since World War II.

The Associated Press and NBC Olympic research contributed to this report.

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