“It was the result of 13 years of work for me,” Irie said through a translator. “But this tournament is a huge moment for women’s boxing in Japan and the world. We have come a long way. I hope it helps our sport.”
Just nine years after the sport debuted in London, the largest women’s boxing arena in Olympic history is brighter and more exciting than ever – and it’s leveling all kinds of milestones in Tokyo.
Petesio, Testa and Irie on Wednesday made their way into national history by winning the quarter-finals of the Olympic 57kg featherweight division, a feat not present before this year. There are 100 women fighting in five weight classes in Tokyo, which is almost three times more than the 36 fighters competing in just three classes in London and Rio.
Women’s boxing has grown rapidly over the past decade, both at the amateur and professional levels. But the sport has reached another level of legitimacy and attention in Japan, and this is mostly due to the blooming of seeds planted in London.
Dozens of girls who watched the sport on television from Britain in 2012 are all grown up, and they arrive in Tokyo ready to fight.
Caroline Dubois was only 11 when Katie Taylor of Ireland and Natasha Jonas of Britain fought each other in the quarterfinals of the London Games. Taylor won the gold medal, and Dubois was fascinated.
Dubois is now the lighter weight of the weighted British team, and while she is pleased with the increasing number of fighters, she knows the game’s overall increase in quality is more important – and more challenging.
“It’s crazy how the level, the experience, the talent has all gone up,” Dubois said. “There are so many talented people out here who have so many great styles. When Katie Taylor and Natasha were here, there were some extraordinary talents like her and (two-time American gold medalist) Claressa Shields. There were some girls who were just above the rest. But the level has gone so high now. Everything is even. Everyone’s so talented.”
The increase to 100 boxers is significant, but the additional weights are even larger for class fighters. There are 17 weight categories in professional boxing for men and usually 10 for women, but boxers who do not weigh close to the wide limits set by the Olympic Games – eight for men and five for women in Tokyo – are at a disadvantage. which only get smaller when classes are added.
For example, Testa fought in Rio de Janeiro with a lighter weight of 60 kilograms, and fought against stronger opponents. Five years later, she could compete in the lighter weight class in Tokyo – and she quickly won a medal.
“Featherweight is the best for me,” Testa said. “Every opponent and girl is very strong, but I feel better with myself. It’s so different. I’m so grateful.”
Most of the women fighting in the new 69-kilogram welterweight class feel the same way, including U.S. Representative O’Shea Jones. In London and Rio, the span between 60-kilogram lightweight and 75-kilogram middleweight was unattainable for many fighters.
Jones said, “It’s amazing to be the first welterweight, because in boxing, women still don’t get the same rights and privileges as men. With two more weight classes, I think we’re neck and neck men. I mean Our women’s team is tougher than the men’s, so I know we’re going to make the most of it.”
Promoters are now taking this seriously, which means increased viewership and more opportunities – even if the financial rewards are not yet matched by men.
What the future holds for Olympic women’s boxing is not as clear as the fate of the International Boxing Association (AIBA), which made progress in women’s boxing before being suspended for the Tokyo Games over years of financial and ethical problems.
The sport’s top officials and competitors would like to add more fighters and more weight classes to pull with all men, but the Olympics refused to increase the sport’s total athlete quota before Tokyo, which meant more women and fewer men. Competing in 2021.
With Paris only three years away, many women in Tokyo are already planning for 2024 – but they know the competition to get there will be even tougher.
“There are many more women out there,” said Britain’s Karis Artingstall, fourth featherweight quarterfinalist. “There aren’t categories for them to fill yet. There are thousands, millions of girls who want to compete at the international level. They just haven’t had the opportunity, but it’s coming. Women’s boxing is still going big.”
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