LONDON – The three Americans in the first Olympic women’s boxing tournament have learned how fickle the draw can be.
While flyweight Marlen Esparza and middleweight Claressa Shields both drew first-round byes Friday, lightweight Queen Underwood was assigned one of the toughest paths to gold imaginable.
Underwood must fight British medal contender Natasha Jonas in front of her home crowd in the first round.
The winner will meet Ireland’s Katie Taylor, the top-ranked lightweight thought to be the best female boxer at the Olympics.
“She’s going from one top person to the No. 1,” U.S. assistant coach Gloria Peek told The Associated Press. “Queen can rise to the occasion, though. She has done it before, and she can do it again.”
Taylor has beaten Underwood three times in previous meetings. The rest of the 285 fighters in the field also learned their first-round fates during the long proceedings at ExCel, the multisport venue hosting the boxing tournaments. Most of the world’s top-ranked fighters received byes, which means they won’t begin until well into next week, but the draw’s prime importance in amateur boxing was emphasized yet again – particularly for the women pioneers.
The five-day women’s tournament features just 12 fighters in each of its three weight classes, which means a medal is within relatively easy reach. While Underwood faces a major challenge, Esparza and Shields – and Canadian middleweight Mary Spencer, who also drew a bye – must win just one bout to be guaranteed at least bronze. A gold medal is just three wins away.