Looking . . . to the Olympics, Esparza could imagine a scenario in which she wins the gold medal—but not one in which she doesn’t. “I feel like it will complete me—like it will make me what I want to be,” she said. “I don’t want to see someone else win.” Esparza put her fork down, and a tear slid down her cheek. “It would be like someone else living what you’re supposed to be living, and feeling what you’re supposed to be feeling. It’s like someone stealing what I want to be.” She paused again, wiping her eyes with her cloth napkin. “Failure is when your best isn’t good enough, and I’m trying as hard as I possibly can.”
Esparza finished her entrée and we ordered dessert—fried zeppoles with chocolate sauce. When I asked her how she envisions her life after the Olympics—after boxing, that is—she recalled driving to the gym one morning and seeing two girls, about her age, who looked like they were going to the mall. Esparza wondered what the rest of their day might be like, whether they would see their friends, or go to the movies. “And I was thinking, What the heck would I do all day?” She considered this for a moment. “It’s like a small kitten or an inside dog that scratches at the door all day, but when someone finally opens it, they don’t want to go,” she said. “They just look.”
Esparza wound up with a bronze medal in the flyweight division, but that didn’t keep her from pulling – in an aggressive way – for her Olympic teammate, middleweight Claressa Shields.
From the New York Daily News:
Shields, a student of the sweet science who was introduced to the sport by her father, likens her style to Sugar Ray Robinson, and complemented straight jabs with rope-a-dope tactics to win Wednesday’s match. She has also shown the speed and accuracy to adapt in a multitude of approaches. She was blunt in her explanation of what she saw on the canvas during the semifinal against Sweden’s Anna Laurell.
“If a girl gonna stand right there in front of me, why not hit her?” Shields said.
Shields accepted all challenges assigned to her. Back home, she’s sparred with every man in her gym, located in the basement of Berston Field House. The opponents have weighed as much as 201 pounds, and she’s absorbed punches to the jaw, but she’s adjusted each time, shrugging off the pain to improve her mettle. On Wednesday, she felt slighted by Laurell.
“The game plan was initially just to go to the right and jab and box but she didn’t respect me when I did that so I turned it into a fun game and started banging with her and I got the best of it,” Shields said. “I was able to do a lot of things people don’t see women doing.”
Shields celebrated her win with friends and fans beneath a section of stands afterward. She was still in uniform, sans the gloves, and mugged for photos with her fists raised. Nearby, Esparza, wearing a wool hat, peeked in, then slipped away.
“She better get the gold,” Esparza said.