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London 2012: Nicola Adams reaches women's boxing final guaranteeing her place as the first British female boxer to win an Olympic medal

  • @jerometaylor

Whatever happens Nicola Adams has already made history.

Two years ago the Leeds-based boxer was on the verge of giving up fighting as she struggled to make ends meet. She worked as a decorator and even took jobs as an extra on Emmerdale and Coronation Street to keep her sporting dreams alive. But when women's boxing was finally given the go ahead for London 2012 she was determined to fight on home turf.

Her dedication has paid off. Tomorrow the plucky 29-year-old will face off against Chinese world champion Ren CanCan after storming through today's semi-final with a show that set the crowd at the ExCel centre alight with newfound enthusiasm for women's boxing.

Given that this is the only time women's boxing has featured at the Olympics, tomorrow afternoon's 16:30 final will inevitably produce a series of firsts – we'll have the first women champion and the first British female boxer to win an Olympic medal. The question is which colour – silver or gold?

That the boxing is taking place in the heart of the East End is a fitting tribute to an area with a long tradition of fighting. Terry Spinks, who who won gold at the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne, was a local hero born just down the road from the ExCel centre in West Ham. Sadly he died in April and was unable to see boxing return to his neighbourhood.

But getting women boxers into the Olympics has been no picnic. It's taken 104 years since men were first allowed to compete and a good decade of intense lobbying by women boxers like Adams to persuade officials that they deserved as much international attention as their male colleagues. It still has a comparatively minor role. While the men have ten different weight divisions, the women have just three.

Adams, who competes in the lightest 51kg division, has said she was inspired by Muhammad Ali to take up the gloves. “He just had so much charisma inside and outside the ring,” she said. “A flashy style – his shuffle – I think he really transcended the sport of boxing. He inspired me. I wanted to be like him – to get in the ring and make the crowd roar.”

She certainly got her wish today. When Adams walked in to the sound of Guns and Roses' thumping rock anthem Welcome to the Jungle, she received the kind of welcome normally only seen at major bouts between her male compatriots.

It might have helped that the beer had been flowing since midday and that a good third of the crowd were noisy Irish supporters who had flocked to see the powerful Katie Taylor make her way to the final of her 60kg division. But either way the women were getting the cheers they deserved.

Given this was an Olympic crowd, many spectators were newcomers to the idea that Britain could produce world class female boxers..   

“When I knew I'd got tickets to come and see it I thought do I really want to go and watch this,” admitted Ian Michel, a leather merchant from Northampton who had travelled with his wife to see the match. “But having seen it on television I'm ever so pleased to see it live. And I think I'm glad it's in the Olympics.”

For women boxers the run up to the Games was marred by a seemingly unnecessary controversy over what clothes they should wear. Boxing officials wanted to make skirts compulsory. Many women boxers – a breed of athlete that inevitably do not like being told what to do, let alone wear – baulked at the plan. The boxers won.

Adams is the last remaining female boxer in the running for a medal after Natasha Jonas and Savannah Marshall were both knocked out in the earlier stages. As the world's number two in her her division, she was always a favourite to win a gold medal. And she has fought through her qualifying rounds with vigour. Today's bout against India's diminutive but fierce boxer Mary Kom was no exemption. Although Adams' 5'5” frame dwarfs Kom – who at five foot had to put on four kilos to make the 51kg division – the Indian boxer is a five time world champion and a hero in her homeland. But Adams held her own, comfortably beating her opponent in each of the four two minute rounds.

Her thoughts now turn to CanCan, who defeated Adams in the world championship final earlier this year.

“All I want to do is make my mum and dad and my family proud,” she told reporters after today's fight. “I don't want to take [Kom] lightly. I massively want that gold. Words can't express it. To get that for Great Britain would mean the world to me.”