This summer, women boxers will compete for the first time at the Olympics. The London Olympics is debuting the sport in a limited test run, allowing only 36 women worldwide to compete this year in three weight divisions: flyweight (112-lb. limit), lightweight (132 lb.) and middleweight (165 lb.). Meanwhile, some 250 men will box in 10 weight classes.
Competitions were held in China to see who would qualify to compete, and out of the 36 women who qualified, two New Zealanders and two Americans emerged to make history for their countries – Alexis Pritchard and Siona Fernandes representing New Zealand, and Marlen Esparza and Claressa Shields representing the United States.
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Alexis Pritchard, 24, is a featherweight boxer who migrated from South Africa and began boxing at age 19. She has since gone on to win four New Zealand featherweight titles along with a gold medal at the 2007 Oceania Championships in Samoa.
Siona Fernandes, , 29, qualified in the flyweight category. Siona moved to New Zealand from Goa India five years ago, took up amateur boxing just two years ago. A classical Indian dancer with a bachelor’s degree in performing arts and a master’s in psychology, Fernandes is a physiotherapist who fits in clients around her training and competition schedule.
United States of America
Marlen Esparza, 23, qualified in the flyweight category. She began boxing in 2002, going on to win a bronze medal in the 2006 World Championships and winning the gold in the 2008 Pan American Games. Marlen was her student body president and graduated in the top 2% of her class at Pasadena High School.
Claressa Shields, , 17, qualified in the middleweight division. She is a junior at Flint Northwestern High School, and began boxing in 2006, after her father told her about Laila Ali, the daughter of Muhammed Ali.
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We salute these women and their achievements, and will be cheering both countries as these amazing athletes make history at the Olympics.