By Craig Bohnert | March 17, 2016, 4:41 p.m. (ET)


Nico Hernandez started an action-packed day for Team USA at the AIBA American Olympic Qualification Tournament by qualifying for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games in Thursday’s early session in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Hernandez, a light flyweight, was able to block out distraction of the audience cheering on the host country’s Leandro Blanc to score a victory in the semifinal, which punched his ticket to Rio.

After winning the first round by a 10-9 score, Hernandez saw the second round go to Blanc by the same score. The bronze medalist in the 2015 continental championships, he took the fight to the Argentine, using his longer reach to keep his opponent at bay and wearing him down. Surviving a final desperate flurry as the bell sounded, Hernandez claimed a unanimous decision to earn his ticket to Rio.

Middleweight Charles Conwell punched his ticket to Rio by defeating Jorge Luis Vivas Palacios of Colombia, to advance to the final. The 2015 Golden Gloves champion used his left hand effectively to win the first round, 10-9. Clearly the more mobile of the two, Conwell stayed light on his feet throughout the second round, dancing away from the Colombian’s attempt to land a big right to win the round 10-9. Continuing to move away from the Palacios’ attempts to draw him in, Conwell claimed the third round as well to advance to the final.

Heavyweight Cam F. Awesome, a four-time U.S. champion from Lenexa, Kansas, who has dropped down from the super heavyweight division, also faced a home country favorite in Yamil Alberto Peralta Jara, a 2012 Olympian for Argentina. Peralta was able to find his way through Awesome’s defense to score several blows as he won all three rounds. Awesome still can earn his spot in Rio at this tournament by winning the bronze-medal bout tomorrow. Any of the U.S. men who are unable to securing their berths this week will have another opportunity at the APB/WSB Olympic Qualifying Event in Sofia, Bulgaria, May 13-22. The final chance to qualify will be held June 7-19 in Baku, Azerbaijan.

Women’s flyweight Virginia Fuchs fell short of qualifying after dropping her match against Colombia’s Ingrit Lorena Valencia Victoria. The southpaw Texan was the more aggressive of the two fighters, but Fuchs may have been having flashbacks to her past career as a cross-country runner while chasing Victoria around the ring. The Colombian employed a strategy that took advantage of her quickness to keep out of Fuchs’ reach and score with counterpunches. Fuchs will have one more chance to earn her ticket to Rio at the 2016 AIBA Women’s World Boxing Championships May 16-28 in Sofia, Bulgaria.

Claressa Shields celebrated her 21st birthday by ensuring herself a trip to Rio and a chance to defend her Olympic title with a decision over Yenebier Adelina Guillen Benitez of the Dominican Republic. The first American woman to win an Olympic gold medal in boxing, the middleweight employed a controlled attack against the Dominican, looking for opportunities. She found one late in the first round when a short right staggered Benitez, then finished the second round with a scoring combination. Benitez tried to press the attack in the third round, but it allowed Shields to exploit openings to land sharp left jabs and effective rights.

Three more U.S. boxers will look to qualify in Thursday's evening session. Bantamweight Shakur Stevenson, light welterweight Gary Russell and light heavyweight Jonathan Esquivel will step into the ring, hoping to join the contingent that will seek to end a U.S. men's medal drought that extends back to 2004.