If ever there was an athlete to put a smile on a nation’s face, it surely was Nicola Adams. But the most effervescent member of the Great Britain Olympic squad had to bite down hard on her gumshield here on Tuesday to secure at least a bronze with a one-fight passage through to the semi-finals.
The judges gave her a clear margin – 40-36, 39-37, 39-37 – against the lively 28-year-old Ukrainian Tetyana Kob and she can breathe easy before her second bout, a rematch against China’s Ren Cancan, whom she beat in London for her debut gold four years ago.
The 33-year-old Leeds flyweight was happy enough with her performance and said: “I’m into the medals. She was a tough opponent, did not stop coming forward, really aggressive, quite strong. I just had to get through it; it was one of those working fights.”
Adams also had a couple of tricky engagements on her way to winning the world title in May. Over four rounds of two minutes each the margin for error is slim, and she knows she will have no such luxury against Ren, who scored an easier points win over the Canadian Mandy Bujold.
“I was a little bit off with the ring rust,” Adams said, “but, as the rounds go on now, I’ve got the first fight out of the way, and I’ll improve in the next fight. I’ve been here four weeks and quite anxious to get in there and perform. Maybe next time, I might come out a little bit later.”
Was that a hint that she was thinking about boxing on until the Tokyo Olympics? “I’m not sure yet,” is all she would say. She knows she has plenty of work to do here first. “This means everything to me. I came here for a medal, but I always want the gold.”
Although she has not been to any other events, she has been watching with the rest of the Great Britain team in the Olympic village. “Mo Farah, absolutely fantastic. For him to fall over and still get up and win shows true grit and determination, but that’s what it takes to be a champion. Even when you’re down, you have to find a way to get back up, push on, fight on and win those medals.”
Adams received kind treatment for a sluggish start, all three judges apparently ill-disposed to reward the Ukrainian for catching her more illustrious opponent with a couple of eye-catching head shots in the first round – and in centre ring. They were hard to miss.
But the reigning champion started to move with more awareness for oncoming traffic in the second, presenting a more elusive target, and, with the cushion of that lead, she let the punches flow freely, especially with some neat counter-rights to the rib cage. They went to it in a mid‑round exchange that neither seemed to dominate and Adams got her jab going, along with an uppercut to the solar plexus, to shade the session.
This time, however, she got the nod from two of the judges, which seemed mildly perverse – from this seat in the faraway press box, anyway. Adams looked more in control than in the first.
Still, she had only to keep the shape in her boxing in the closing two rounds to go through. Kob, growing desperate, threw wildly and had intermittent success, but not enough. The officials again gave two of their three cards to Adams in the third.
And so to the fourth, for two minutes of hectic leather-swapping, where style and form often evaporate. Adams, still reaching for a convincing rhythm against a difficult opponent, managed to land more consistently on the retreat and did the more obvious work in front of the judges, although she took a couple of heavy shots on the bell.
She had done enough but, it has to be said, it was not the sort of performance to encourage confidence in her push for another gold medal. The next fight will be an altogether more demanding experience.
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