MEMPHIS, Tenn. – Olympic boxing gold medalist Claressa Shields realized something about herself while serving as honorary Duckmaster at the Peabody Hotel and leading the famous feathered parade.
“I believe I’m a little scared of animals,” Shields said. “I kind of ran from the ducks a little bit.”
Shields had no fears in the ring at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Women’s Boxing, winning the event Saturday for the second straight time as a middleweight.
Shields won in a unanimous decision over Tika Hemingway, whom she also defeated in the 2012 Olympic Trials final.
If Shields makes it back to the Olympic Games, she will be the only returning female boxer for Team USA.
Flyweight Virginia Fuchs defeated Olympic bronze medalist Marlen Esparza for the second time in the tournament in a 2-1 split decision. Fuchs and Shields must still qualify the quota spots for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games next year in the continental or world championships.
The lightweight division will not be decided until Sunday. Youth Olympic Games gold medalist Jajaira Gonzalez defeated Mikaela Mayer by unanimous decision to avenge a loss earlier in the week. Their third bout will be winner-take-all.
Although Shields may be scared of live ducks, she has no qualms about dead ones.
She compared her four straight wins to “duck soup. Just put the duck in the pot. It’s simple.”
While Hemingway gave her a better fight than she did on Tuesday, including a ferocious third round, Shields said, “It was still duck soup; I just got a little bit tired.”
But she had kind words after the fight for Hemingway, speaking to her in the ring. “I said, ‘Thanks for the great fight,’” Shields said. “I told her, ‘I knew you were going to bring it today.’ And like a champion, she did. I told her she didn’t lose to a scrub; I was going to take it all the way for 2016.”
Shields was only 16 when she won the 2012 Olympic Trials, and now at 20 is a seasoned veteran.
“I really feel numb,” she said after receiving her medal, a jacket and a guitar as her prizes. “I can’t really feel anything right now. I feel like I’m asleep. I can’t believe I’m a two-time Olympian. It’s just crazy to think about it.”
Shields has a 66-1 record, her only loss coming at the 2012 world championships to Savannah Marshall of England and it still grates on her.
“I feel like I was a little bit scared going into the 2012 Olympics,” she said. “I had just had my first loss. This time I haven’t lost in three years. I feel like there’s nothing that can stop me from the 2016 Olympics this time around.”
Her Olympic journey and the aftermath are chronicled in an acclaimed documentary called “T-Rex,” which is expected to air on PBS next year.
Shields said it shows “a lot of the obstacles that I had to overcome growing up as a kid, and even growing up being a boxer.”
The documentary explores her return to high school after the Olympic Games in London and how she did not get any endorsements for three years. “It still shows my hard work, my dedication, and how I continued to move on with my life after that,” she said.
Shields has walked the red carpet at film festivals and said she was “shocked” by the attention of people of all different age groups.
“I’m wondering, ‘What part are they interested in about my life? How long have they been following me?’ I never knew how many fans that I really had until I was going to these screenings and seeing these long lines. And everybody’s looking at you like, ‘Is that her?’
“I never knew how many people actually looked up to me and that I inspired them.”
T-Rex is a former nickname for Shields. She was originally a writer, not a fighter, but said she was bullied a lot while in elementary school “because I was quiet and smart. They would pull my hair and copy off my paper and then ball it up and throw it in the trash and turn their work in.
“Fifth grade is when I really started,” she added. “I had been holding in so much for so long I just turned into this monster. I knew I could street fight. I knew I was fast and I hit hard. I could put people in a headlock, I knew how to wrestle.
“I was kind of like a tomboy growing up. So instead of me crying about people picking on me, I started fighting.”
Shields still writes – and has filled nine diaries – but said, “Writing just wasn’t solving my problems, so I learned that once you beat up somebody in school, they leave you alone. Everybody does. They know that you’ll fight them. They know you’re not scared of them. So that’s what ended my bullying.”
The documentary also deals with her split with her coach, Jason Crutchfield, and her new coach, Leon Lawson.
Shields said that she left Crutchfield, who had trained her since she was 11, because “we just didn’t see eye to eye.”
Shields has a boyfriend, boxer Ardreal Holmes, and said Crutchfield “didn’t understand that I was growing up. He thought I was off focus.”
She said they always had a deal: “Once you step into the gym, all outside problems stay out of the gym, no matter if it’s between me and you, or if your mom got on your nerves or if your dad got on your nerves, or your sister or you got jumped at school. When you walk through the door the only thing you think about is boxing.”
However, Shields said, “He started bringing those problems to the gym and I just couldn’t deal with it.”
Lawson also trained fighters at the same gym. After Shields approached him, she said he told Crutchfield that he wasn’t trying to come between them, “but the girl needs somewhere to train.”
Shields has been working with Lawson for about 18 months.
“He’s been able to bring me peace of mind and new ideas,” she said.
Fuchs and her team decided to keep the same game plan that worked for her previously in fighting Esparza for the second time.
She said she knew the Saturday bout would be close.
“I was using that jab like I did on Wednesday night,” she said of the 2-1 decision, which was her first career victory over her fellow Texan. “I got my space and got my rhythm. I didn’t let her get her rhythm. I knew by the end of the second round and the whole third round, ‘I got this.’
“I’m landing the clear shots and stronger shots and I just knew I had it.”
Fuchs said she kept Esparza from gaining control of the fight.
“I made sure that was my ring tonight,” she said.
There was no doubt the ring belonged to Gonzalez in the lightweight division. She was relentless in taking the fight to Mayer, who often wrapped her up to stop the flurry of punches.
“I was kind of getting a little frustrated because I was connecting and I was obviously landing the cleaner and the harder shots,” Gonzalez said, “so every time that would happen, she would try to hold me, so the ref kept telling her to stop.”
Gonzalez, 18, a former youth and junior world champion, said she resorted to wrestling Mayer off. “If she wants to wrestle, I’m here to fight,” she said.
Mayer won in a split decision when the two fought earlier in the week and Gonzalez knew she had to start strong from the first round.
“My last fight, I kind of waited a little bit to feel her out,” said Gonzalez. “This time I just went straight for it,” relying on aggressiveness and following up her punches.
She said on Sunday her game plan is to go even harder.
“Kill it from the first round to the end,” Gonzalez said. “I have to.”