|Jajaira Gonzalez stands atop the podium after winning gold in the women's lightweight (57-60 kg.) boxing competition at the Nanjing 2014 Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing, China.|
NANJING, China -- Jajaira Gonzalez has lofty goals for such a young woman. The 17-year-old yearns to become one of the greatest female boxers in the world and, in the process, inspire young women everywhere.
Gonzalez showed she is well on her way to accomplishing both goals Tuesday afternoon when she won gold in the women’s lightweight (57-60 kg.) division at the 2014 Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing, China.
The California native made history Tuesday by becoming the first U.S. boxer – male or female – to medal at the Youth Games.
“This is such a dream come true,” Gonzalez said of her gold medal. “It feels great to be able to show people that dreams do come true. It’s not easy and you have to work hard, but it’s possible.”
Gonzalez and U.S. middleweight teammate Martha Fabela first made history at these Games by becoming the first U.S. women to compete at the Youth Olympic Games, as women’s boxing made its Youth Olympic debut in Nanjing.
“It just shows that women can fight, too,” Gonzalez said. “It’s not just for boys.”
While men’s boxing has been on the Olympic program since 1904, women’s boxing did not make its debut until 108 years later at the London 2012 Olympic Games, where Team USA had a strong showing. The U.S. was represented in all three weight classes and walked away with two medals. Claressa Shields won gold in the middleweight division while Marlen Esparza took bronze in flyweight.
Gonzalez has trained with both women at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and considers Esparza her role model in the sport.
“I look up to her a lot,” Gonzalez said. “She gives me amazing advice and I watch how hard she works when we’re training. If she’s tired, she just pushes through it. It’s impressive.”
Gonzalez has spent most of this year as a resident athlete at the OTC, where she trains under coach Edward Rivas, who was by her side in China.
“I’m very proud of her and everything she has accomplished in the last 20 months that I’ve been working with her,” Rivas said. “She’s a very dedicated, hard worker.”
Being so dedicated to her sport means Gonzalez has made many sacrifices to achieve her dreams, including going months at a time without seeing her family, who she video-chatted with between her gold-medal bout and victory ceremony. Gonzalez said her family was proud of her and cannot wait to see her after the Games.
Her family is the reason she began boxing at age 8 and has risen to the level she is at now. Jajaira’s father, Jose, and older brother, Joet, a 2012 Olympic hopeful and now professional boxer, are her coaches at home. Another older brother, Jousce, is currently a USA Boxing national team member and 2016 hopeful.
“She has a beautiful family back at home with a father and brothers who all box and they support her 100 percent,” Rivas said. “It’s a beautiful thing to work with.”
Jajaira spoke to her family members before the tournament and they advised her to be smart, keep working, and never let any fight get close. She did just that as she won her semifinal 2-0 against Sweden’s Agnes Alexiusson on Sunday and followed that up with a 3-0 win over Ireland’s Ciara Ginty in the gold-medal bout.
The Gonzales and Rivas have helped Jajaira to world titles on the youth and junior levels and now, the pinnacle of her young career, Youth Olympic gold — an experience Gonzalez says she is always going to remember.
“Everything was amazing here, especially the staff and volunteers,” Gonzalez said. “I’m always going to remember these Games for the rest of my life.”
The next step for her is to transition to the elite level and continue her path on the road to Rio.
“I’m going to go home, see my family for the first time in three months, then keep training harder and get ready for the 2016 Olympics.”