Claressa Shields' 'ESPN' Body Issue Shoot Shows Off Her Strength & Power

The purpose of the ESPN Body Issue is not to inspire envy (as many, including myself, would imagine), but to showcase the incredible physiques of the world's top athletes. The athletes pose nude, often in stances of action or dynamic repose, to quite literally embody their own stories. That's why the Body Issue shoot of America's top female boxer and one of the best boxers in the world is so incredible. Team USA boxer Claressa Shields' Body Issue shoot exemplified her incredible strength in a beautiful way.

In sports, your body is equal parts canvas and work tool. Shields' body is not only one of the strongest and most beautiful bodies showcased, but also, as a boxer, one that requires constant training to keep strong. The proof is in the photographs as her drive and concentration shine through both her expression and posture.

It also takes emotional strength to become a champion, which Shields has in spades. The story of her difficult and abusive upbringing in Flint, Michigan, as well as her return to the impoverished city following her 2012 gold medal win in London add a brilliant context to these photos. We are looking at someone who has overcome much more than many of her fellow American Olympians but refuses to allow herself to be defined by her circumstances. Shields is an individual with a true sense of grit and grace that make her more than worthy of the gold yet again.

In an interview that accompanies her Body Issue spread, Shields opened up about her mental and physical training techniques that make her such an amazing athlete:

A week before I fight, I always tell my family and my friends that I can't be around any kids — I'm easily annoyed and I don't like to lose my focus; I'm just super freakin' in a zone. Then once I walk into the ring, the only thing I'm thinking is, "I've trained for almost six weeks, I'm pissed. I've done too much training to lose." That's where my mind is at: I've trained too hard, I've eaten right, I went to bed early, I haven't been able to hang out with my friends or my family. Somebody is going to have to pay for that [laughs]. Somebody.

The seemingly-extreme measures paid off: in 2012, at the mere age of 17, Shields became the first American woman to win gold in boxing at the London Olympics.

Shields said she is even better now, reported Grand Rapids, Michigan's WOOD TV 8. And on the eve of her title-defending fight against Russia's Yaroslava Yakushina, all eyes will be on her as she gears up to potentially become the first American boxer to ever win consecutive gold medals at back-to-back Olympics.

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With an already-stunning career and potentially greater accolades and awards to come, Shields' Body Issue photos show that strength and vulnerability can be paired with hardship and grace in beautiful ways.