Nicola Adams, one of boxing’s true pioneers, brought her Olympic boxing odyssey to a fitting, gilded conclusion with a fine points win over her long-time rival, Sarah Ourahmoune, in the flyweight final here on Saturday.
She would not commit to any plans for the future in the afterglow of her winning her second gold medal but, at 33, the four-year stretch ahead to Tokyo seems a long and difficult journey and, as she said, “this is a tough process”.
Adams had only to win three bouts here, after a bye at the start of the tournament, and her opponent – who is retiring at 34 – was having her fourth contest but both were fresh and unmarked.
Adams, now the European and world champion and double Olympic gold medallist, bridled at the suggestion that this might have been an easier assignment than in London, where she won her first gold – and the first by a woman in the short history of the sport.
“Definitely not,” she said. “I had to qualify like everybody else. It’s tough, because everyone wants to go to the Olympic Games. Every time you beat someone, you’re crushing their dreams. Today I thought I was winning the rounds quite comfortably and scoring with the cleaner shots.”
She added, with no hint of arrogance: “I’m now the most accomplished British amateur boxer of all time. It’s a nice title to have. To be honest, it feels pretty much the same this time [as in London]. I’ve had a massive amount of support from Yorkshire and the rest of the nation. I feel like I have all their support in the ring with me, every punch I was throwing.”
Although the decision was unanimous across the scorecards of the three judges, they mysteriously awarded the third of the four rounds to Ourahmoune when it was by some way her least convincing. “I just like to keep things interesting, I guess,” the ever-smiling winner said. “I didn’t follow the points all the way through, so I’m not sure how they gave that to her, to be honest.”
It is academic, of course, and the alleged pro-French bias that some have detected in this tournament – in the men’s and women’s draw – did not kick in here. Then she rattled off a thank-you list that included her mother, brother, coach and fans.
Adams looked extraordinarily relaxed walking to the ring but revealed later: “I’m always very nervous for every competition I have and I use that nervous energy when I get into the ring. It gives you an adrenaline rush and it lets you know that you’re taking it seriously and you’re not just going to walk through it.”
She could hardly have made a brighter start, picking her spot with wicked precision and judging the distance to perfection – until she walked smack into a solid right near the end of the session, followed by a right hook. Yet she did enough to shade the points.
She knocked the French boxer off balance at the start of the second but did not spoil her work by rushing in. When she caught her with a stinging head shot on the ropes, however, Adams did not waste the opportunity and whaled in two-fisted. Ourahmoune again did her best work in the closing moments of the round. All three judges saw it for Adams and the Parisian southpaw was in a deal of bother.
The exchanges grew more lively in the third. Adams, working behind a piercing jab, looked good in centre ring, where she had room to do her boxing, but was caught a couple of times on the retreat. Ourahmoune slipped to the floor with 30 seconds left but was throwing enough to catch the attention of the officials and clawed a round back. It seemed an odd call, however.
It was still a competitive fight, with both boxers aware that their entire careers were reduced to the final two minutes of an engaging if scrapping final. It was not pretty and they were both cautioned for some untidy work inside. Ourahmoune seemed the major culprit but she did not lack for spirit. In a lively conclusion she landed a couple of long right hands and took a pair of uppercuts to the body in return.
There was huge mutual respect and both embraced at the end, champions in their sport and worthy finalists.
While Ourahmoune had already declared this was her farewell, Adams was equivocal.
“I’m going to take a holiday, come back and then decide what’s next.”
Whatever she does – acting, coaching or boxing on – she will do it with the biggest smile in the room. However, the occasion got to her in the end and she let the tears flow freely as she stood on the podium a little while later.
Is she the most accomplished amateur Britain has had? Some might push the case for Harry Mallin – unbeaten in more than 300 bouts and back-to-back gold medals in Antwerp and Paris – or Dick McTaggart, the stylish Scot who won gold and bronze, as well as 610 of his 634 contests. But nobody can have been as warm and popular as the gregarious little flyweight from Leeds.
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