Olympic medallists hope success will boost popularity of women's boxing

Irie holds her gold medal after defeating the Philippines's Nesthy Petecio (left) in the women's featherweight 60-kg final boxing match in Tokyo on Aug 3, 2021. - AP

TOKYO (AFP): Women Olympic boxing medallists sent out a resounding message on Tuesday (Aug 3) in Tokyo about the image of female fighters and hope their success can get more girls involved in the sport.

Sena Irie became the first Japanese woman to win Olympic boxing gold with a unanimous points decision victory over Nesthy Petecio, herself the first woman from the Philippines to pocket a medal in the sport.

Women's boxing entered the Olympics for the first time at London 2012, when there were only three weight categories, but there are five in Tokyo and women's boxing is more popular than ever.

But women boxers say more needs to be done.

"I'm not really good at sport in general," said the 20-year-old Irie after winning the featherweight title, the first boxing gold of the pandemic-delayed Games.

"So this sends out a message to all girls who are not good at sports: as long as they try hard, they can achieve something.

"Media is now covering me and I think there will be more opportunities for media to cover women's boxing," she added.

"I hope that women's boxing in Japan can become even more popular."

That defiant message was echoed by Irma Testa, the bronze medallist from Italy.

"I can only say that I am really proud," said the 23-year-old, who had also made a small piece of boxing history for her country.

"For me it was really important to win a medal in order to make women's boxing in Italy more popular.

"So it's the first medal ever for women's boxing (in Italy), and with this medal I can show young girls in Italy that boxing is also a sport for women, not just men.

"I think today is proof of that."

Underlining the challenge that women's boxing still faces for recognition in some countries and the stereotypes that endure, Irie said that some people have the impression that women fighters "are violent or scary or aggressive".

"That's not the case," she said.

"I want to wipe out those aggressive images of boxers."

Back in the ring, there was disappointment for Petecio, the 29-year-old world champion and favourite for the featherweight title.

The weight category was making its Olympic debut in women's boxing.

Judges' scorecards -- which are now displayed after each round to make Olympic boxing more transparent -- unanimously had the home fighter Irie ahead after round one.

Both boxers were letting their fists go in a lively and open contest at Kokugikan Arena, which is usually used for Japan's national sport, sumo.

Petecio had the better of the second round and the third was also highly competitive.

However, it was Irie who got the nod from the judges, putting her hand over her mouth and crying.

Silver-medallist Petecio, who said that she was "proud to be part of the LGBT" community, was also emotional afterwards.

"It means a lot to me," she said.

"This medal is not just for me, it's for my country, it's for my coach, for my best friend who died this year."

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