FLINT, Mich. – Everywhere you look, you see her name and face: on telephone poles, billboards, windows, and newspapers. For the last 10 days, whenever Olympic Gold Medalist Claressa Shields enters a room, she’s greeted like a conquering hero, all the while insisting on being treated just like everyone else.
Since returning from London, things have been a whirlwind for Shields after she made history as the first woman to win an Olympic gold medal in boxing, winning the middleweight title. When she returned home on August 13, the scene at Flint’s Bishop International Airport was pandemonium.
“When I left [for London], there might have been 10 people who saw me off from the airport,” Shields, 17, said in an exclusive interview with theGrio. “[After the Olympics], I came back and there were 600 people at the airport. There were a bunch of people from the city, a bunch of people who weren’t from Flint were here. It was overwhelming. It kind of freaked me out.”
After leaving the airport, she was greeted by another 200 people at the Berston Field House on the city’s north side where she trains. Just two days later, she was honored at the State Capitol in Lansing by Michigan’s Legislature before heading back to Flint to ride in the city’s Back to the Bricks Cruise which drew an estimated 500,000 people.
“I’ve just been doing interviews and signing autographs and pictures,” Shields said. “It’s just really crazy but I kind of still don’t believe it. I still really haven’t sat down and said ‘yeah, I’m ranked No. 1 in the world and I’m an Olympic Gold Medalist.’ It just hasn’t hit me.”
Shields started boxing at age 11 after being introduced to the sport by her father, Bo Shields. Shortly after beginning her amateur career, the 5-foot-10, 170-pound Shields immediately excelled, winning two Junior Olympic championships. At her first open tournament, the National Police Athletic League championships in October 2011, Claressa went on to win middleweight title and qualified for the Olympic trials.
“At first I wanted to just get the full enjoyment out of boxing,” said Shields, who has an amateur record of 28-1 with 14 knockouts. “My last 12 matches have come in the last year. When I was in juniors, I was fighting twice a year and going nine months without fighting.
“But now in open division, I get to fight a lot more,” she added. “I actually like that.” Shields suffered her only loss to Savannah Marshall of Great Britain during the Olympic Trials, but was an at-large pick for the U.S. team. Once in London, she defeated Sweden’s Anna Laurell, Marina Volnova of Kazakhstan, and Russia’s Nadezda Torlopova to win the Gold, making history in the process.
“At the Olympics, for those eight minutes of each fight, all that attention was on me,” she said. “Either the crowd is with you or against you. When I was fighting [Laurell in the quarterfinals], all of them doubting me made me step up even more.”
Shields spent most of her time in London at the Olympic village. She did get an opportunity to meet basketball stars Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, and Russell Westbrook as well as visiting a shopping mall in London, but the Olympics were a business trip for her.
“I really couldn’t do anything but think about boxing,” she said. “The only sightseeing I did was going from the Olympic Village to the ExCel Centre to watch my teammates fight. When I went to the mall, I almost forgot what I was at the Olympics for because it was so big and there were so many people.”