She came to prove she's the greatest female fighter the Olympics has ever seen by becoming the first two-time gold medalist USA Boxing has ever seen. After dominating in her first two matches, 21-year-old American boxer Claressa Shields defeated Nouchka Fontijn of the Netherland's in the women's boxing middleweight final to win her second Olympic gold medal. But Shields is doing more than simply throwing punches in Rio de Janeiro, she's knocking down gender stereotypes. For as powerful as Shields' fists are in the ring, her words are what is leaving a lasting impact.
For female boxers, the 2012 London Games represented an important turning point in the sport. It was the first time the Olympics had allowed women to compete for medals in boxing and Shields, then just 17, stole the show in her weight class. Inspired to take up the sport at age 11 by tales of her father's amateur boxing bouts, Shields was thought to be "the best chance" USA Boxing had at leaving London with a gold medal. They were right.
Four years later and Shields is heading home with a second gold medal, making her the first American boxer to ever win two Olympic gold medals. "I definitely feel like I'm the best fighter here, male or female," Shields told Yahoo Sports after she defeated Laroslava Lakushina of Russia via unanimous decision Aug. 17 to advance to the semifinals. Two days later, Shields, who's gone undefeated for the past four years, would push her record to 76-1 with a victory against Dariga Shakimoua of Kazakhstan in the semifinals.
In a sport still dogged by debate about whether women belong in the boxing ring (for example, look how long it took for female boxers to be allowed to compete at the Olympics), Shields is pummeling through archaic gender stereotypes in hopes of helping female boxers gain the recognition they deserve. "I want to show that women boxers need to be respected on the amateur level and the professional level," she told ESPN.
Yet Shields isn't fighting strictly for personal glory. She's hoping to spread a powerful message with her participation in the Games this year, making her an inspiring role model for women of all ages and all walks of life. "I want America to know there isn't one definition of a woman," she recently told the Detroit Free Press. "A woman can be strong. It's OK to be a boxer. It's OK to be Serena Williams. It's OK to be athletic. You are still a woman."