Rio 2016: History and the future of boxing in the hands of a smiling Nicola Adams

Great Britain's Nicola Adams during her flyweight semi final match against China's Ren Cancan
Great Britain's Nicola Adams during her flyweight semi final match against China's Ren Cancan
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Boxing has taken a battering in Rio. Step forward Nicola Adams with the chance to put the smile back on the face of her beloved sport.

The 33-year-old from Leeds chases yet more Olympic history today when she meets France’s Sarah Ourahmoune in the final of the women’s flyweight competition.

Yorkshire’s finest was the history maker in London, with a dashing smile and flashing fists, who lit up the ExCel Arena and an Olympics awash with happy memories.

Four years on in Rio, as well as the pursuit of another slice of history and a second gold medal – she would become the first Briton for 92 years to retain Olympic boxing title – Adams carries the burden of her sport on her shoulders.

The British boxing squad, based in Sheffield, came to Rio with 12 fighters and high hopes.

Nine of those fighters departed before the medal rounds.

Adams, super heavyweight Joe Joyce and light heavyweight Joshua Buatsi are the only ones who will return home with a cherished piece of Olympic jewellery.

That she is Britain’s last woman standing says everything about her status in the sport.

As well as her responsibility to British boxing, to win the gold that might secure another large tranche of lottery funding, Adams can also salve the reputation of the noble art.

Boxing at these Games remains mired in talk of corruption, with allegations of dodgy officiating which are increasingly becoming a fixture at every Games.

Some referees have been sent home and AIBA, boxing’s world governing body, released an unfortunate statement insisting they had ‘zero tolerance to fair play’ – later amended to foul play.

Boxing fans in Rio are a fickle lot too, they cheer their own, loudly boo any country they don’t like – neighbours don’t equal good friends in these parts – and display an air of indifference to anyone else.

But Adams, who enters the ring as she leaves it, all smiles and white teeth, is a popular exception. “I guess they liked my style,” she says.

“I come into the ring smiling and happy and perhaps that’s what they want to see, someone enjoying being in Rio and enjoying their boxing.”

Those smiles turn to deadly punches in the ring. And Adams doesn’t let her guard down in or out of the ring. She doesn’t engage in fighting talk and never discusses opponents.

Interviewing her is as difficult mentally as taking her on in the ring is physically.

“My form is good,” she says, matter-of-factly. “I’ve got the European and world titles and I want that Olympic title back too – all in the same year.

“There’s no-one in the draw I look for, I look out for everybody, they’re all good competitors but I’m hoping for a victory.

“It’s not just been about me and Ren in the draw,” said Adams. “To get to the finals, you’ve got to face a few people before that so I was looking at everyone.

“She [Sara Ourahmoune] is a good competitor but I’m hoping I’ll come away with a victory in the final.

“The first fight here I was a little ring rusty but I’ve got that out of the way and now it’s onwards and upwards.”

While her words may never make the headlines due to a controversial slip of the tongue, or boast, her performances still do.

And, on the evidence of how she has improved since her quarter-final performance, final opponent, Ourahmoune, looks to have her card marked already.

Adams had continued her bid for a second gold by reaching the women’s flyweight final with victory over her old nemesis, Ren Cancan of China.

Despite losing the first round, the 33-year old looked to be fighting within herself and rocked her opponent back on her heels in the second and then slammed home that advantage to win with confidence.

It set up a final with French woman Ourahmoune, against who she is an overwhelming favourite. Ourahmoune won bronze at this year’s World Championships but faces a massive task to beat Adams, a boxer she describes as her ‘idol’.

“Boxing Nicola will be a pure joy for me because I’ve been following her for many years,” she said. “I have one day to set up a strategy but this time I’m really going to fight using instinct.

“I think Nicola has a very nice style, her own style, and you can see that boxing is in her blood. She is a natural boxer and that makes a big difference.”

In the final today, Adams can cement her status, make history and save her sport, all in one knockout blow.

Second placed Lois Toulson and Matthew Lee of Great Britain watch the scoreboard at the Swimming World Championships 2017 in Duna Arena in Budapest, Hungary. (Tibor Illyes/MTI via AP)

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