By Brandon Penny | Oct. 18, 2018, 5:27 p.m. (ET)

Heaven Garcia is named the winner of the bronze-medal bout at the Summer Youth Olympic Games Buenos Aires 2018 on Oct. 18, 2018 in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

 

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina -- It wasn’t the outcome she was initially seeking, but Heaven Garcia was the happiest person in the room when she won her match Thursday afternoon. Her bronze medal was as good as gold.

The American boxer entered the Summer Youth Olympic Games Buenos Aires 2018 as the reigning youth world champion, a title she had secured less than seven weeks earlier.

By all accounts, Garcia was expected both by others and herself to win another gold in Argentina and repeat her feat.

“I did feel a lot of pressure, being a two-time world champion for my country,” said Garcia, who also won the junior world title in 2015. “Not a lot of us are two-time world champions. I’m glad to say that I am. I felt a lot of pressure coming here, but that’s not an excuse why I lost. I’m here, I won the bronze medal, that’s all that matters.”

Garcia won bronze over Bulgaria’s Goryana Stoeva, 5-0, in the women’s flyweight (51 kg.). The fact that she won by unanimous decision yet still thinks she could have done better speaks to the type of athlete she is at just 18 years old.

“I felt good. I thought I won pretty easy, even though I could’ve won way easier,” said Garcia, “but it happens, and I got the victory.”

The medal is the culmination of years of hard work for Garcia, who started her sport at 8 years old when she received a letter from her school.

“It means a lot. This is one of my dreams – to make it to the Youth Olympics, and I’m here now,” Garcia said. “I didn’t get the gold medal like I wanted to, but I’m still on the podium, I’m third place, and I’m just thankful to have this opportunity.”

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After receiving that letter a decade ago, Garcia’s mother asked her if she wanted to box. “I honestly didn’t know what boxing was, but I said sure and I went," she recalled. "The first week I fell in love with the sport. I thought I was very natural, I was learning everything very quick and I just fell in love right away.”

Garcia’s tournament in Buenos Aires started Monday, when she defeated Kazakhstan’s Zhansaya Abdraimova in a split decision, 3-2.

On Tuesday she surprisingly fell to Martina La Piana, 4-1.

“The semifinal, wow, it was a tough defeat that I had to take,” Garcia said. “Coming back from a world championship where I had won first place and then coming over here, in my mind I just wanted another gold medal, but it didn’t happen.

“In the semifinals she got the win that night. The judges gave her the victory, but mentally I just came back. It was really tough, but the next morning I got back to training and knew it was time for the bronze-medal match now, so I’ve got to mentally prepare myself, and I did.”

Despite that defeat, Garcia will take a lot of lessons away from the Youth Games, mainly how to adapt to the different styles of each fighter she faces.

It’s a lesson she will take with her on her road to the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, which was top of mind as soon as her Youth Olympic Games experience ended.

“My next goal is to try to make it to the 2020 Olympics,” Garcia said. “It’s going to be tough. There’s a lot of great American boxers in the elite level. This December will be my first time fighting elite and we’ll see if I make it onto the U.S. team. Either way, my goal is to make it to the 2020 Olympics.”