COLORADO SPRINGS, COLO. - The United States’ two 2012 Olympic medalists returned to the podium on Monday with gold medal victories at the 2014 Elite Women’s World Championships in Jeju, South Korea. Olympic champion Claressa Shields (Flint, Mich.) and Olympic bronze medalist Marlen Esparza (Houston, Texas) both claimed their first elite women’s world titles with final round victories in the major international event at the Halla Gymnasium. The double gold medal performance is the first time the United States squad has ever won two world titles in a single women’s world championships competition. In addition to her first elite world title, Shields received the Outstanding Boxer of the Tournament award following a dominant performance throughout the event.
Esparza, a veteran of five World Championships, competed in her first tournament finale on Monday and the 25-year-old veteran refused to be denied. She took on England’s Lisa Jane Whiteside in the flyweight championship bout and the two talented women battled in a highly competitive contest throughout all eight minutes. Despite multiple momentum swings during the four rounds of competition, Esparza stayed focused on her game plan and executed late in the bout. She pulled out a 2-1 decision over Whiteside to win flyweight gold. Esparza fought through illness during the duration of the tournament but wouldn’t allow anything to stop her from her goal.
“It really hasn’t hit me yet, but I’m so happy,” Esparza said. “I think my experience really played a big role in this tournament. My nerves have impacted me in the past but because I’ve been here so many times before, it wasn’t as nerve-racking. I’ve been fighting so much that I could make adjustments and think in a way that I wasn’t able to before. In the past, I’ve just reacted off of instinct and this time, I was able to think.”
Esparza truly enjoyed her first time on the top spot of a World Championships medal stand and she did her best to soak in the moment. “It was awesome. This time, I got to take it all in and know that I was the winner,” she said.
The Olympic bronze medalist plans to use her experience in Jeju as she prepares for another run at the Olympic Games. “I’m going to look at the mistakes I made and use what I’ve learned about being able to think in the ring and control my nerves,” she said.
In typical Shields fashion, the 19-year-old powerhouse dominated her bout with China’s Qian Li from the opening bell. She used her speed and precision early and often to keep the Chinese boxer off balance and rack up the rounds. Shields controlled every moment of each of her World Championships bouts and Monday was no exception. She completed her journey to gold with a unanimous decision victory over Li to claim middleweight gold and fill the only remaining hole in her resume. In addition to winning another gold medal, Shields received the Outstanding Boxer of the Tournament award for her impressive showing in Jeju.
“I’m totally humbled, my heart feels so full,” Shields said. “To win my first AIBA world title was more than enough, but to win the Outstanding Boxer award too, I’m just so thankful,” she said.
“The coaches (Benny Roman and Gloria Peek) were great both in the corner and outside of the ring. They made me smile outside of the ring and when I came back to the corner, what they said to me was right on point,” she said. “They gave me great instructions and if they saw that I was dominating, they would tell me what to do to dominate even more.”
Although she impressed everyone in attendance throughout the competition, she still sees room for improvement. “I felt great every fight, but I can always do better,” she said.
Esparza has competed in more World Championship tournaments than any other American female boxer and holds the U.S. record with eight straight USA Boxing National Championships. After becoming the first female boxer from the United States to win a medal in the Olympic Games, the 25-year-old Texas chose to focus her eyes on gold at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. With a new world championship under her belt, Esparza will now be one of the favorites to return to the medal podium in two years. Esparza moved to the Olympic Training Center earlier this year and has become one of USA Boxing’s three resident athletes in Colorado Springs, Colo.
Despite being only 17-year-old, Shields made history with a victory in the middleweight division at the first Olympic Games to feature women’s boxing. After winning gold at the 2012 Olympic Games, Shields earned a youth world championship in 2013 and received the 2013 youth female boxer of the year award from AIBA, the international federation for Olympic-style boxing. She heads in to the second half of the quad as the strong favorite to defend her gold medal at the 2016 Olympic Games and the Michigan teenager doesn’t plan to disappoint.
In addition to the two gold medals, featherweight Tiara Brown (Fort Myers, Fla.) won bronze for the United States, adding the medal to her 2012 world championship. The United States team finished second in the team medal standings in the 2014 Elite Women’s World Championships with two gold and one bronze medal.
Esparza and Shields became the fourth and fifth American boxers ever to win women’s world championships titles with today’s wins. The duo joins Devonne Canady (2001), Andrecia Wasson (2010), and Tiara Brown (2012) in accomplishing the feat.
Coaches Benny Roman (Brooklyn, N.Y.), Gloria Peek (Norfolk, Va.), Joe Guzman (Colorado Springs, Colo.), and Juan Estrada (San Diego, Calif.) led the United States team in Jeju.
112 lbs/51 kg: Marlen Esparza, Houston, Texas/USA dec. Lisa Jane Whiteside, ENG, 2-1
165 lbs/75 kg: Claressa Shields, Flint, Mich./USA dec. Qian Li, CHN, 3-0