Women move to centre stage in Olympic boxing debut

The duel between the best amateur male boxers from the United States and their counterparts from bitter enemies Cuba will take a backseat at the Olympics as women's boxing enters the fray for the first time.

Quite what the Marquis of Queensberry would make of it is probably unprintable but the International Olympic Committee (IOC) were persuaded by a polished lobbying campaign to allow it.

The men's competition should be the usual high quality event and if a Cuban wins the super-heavyweight gold expect the medal to be dedicated not only to the country but also this time to the late great three-time champion Teofilo Stevenson, who died in June.

The women pugilists are delighted to have got their shot at Olympic gold and have some genuine talent coming through with Indian hopes high that their legend MC Mary Kom will deliver gold in the flyweight category.

However, Kom will want no repeat of the world championships result earlier this year in China as she lost in the quarter-finals to Englishwoman Nicola Adams putting her place in doubt for the Games.

Adams, though, saved her spot by defeating a Russian in the semis - though she was to lose to China's Ren Cancan in the final - and handing Kom a chance to fulfil her dream.

"Nicola has helped me get a chance to go to the Olympics so I will try my very best. It's a dream to go to the Games as they are very special to me and India," said the 29-year-old Kom also known as 'Magnificent Mary'.

"I have fought in the World Championships many times but it's important to go to the Olympics -- it's the highlight of my career," said the diminutive Kom, who has been forced to move up a division in a bid to contest the lightest Olympic category, 51 kilos.

Ireland too will dream of a rare gold with their outstanding lightweight Katie Taylor, the 25-year-old having won her fourth successive world title in China but even for someone as experienced as herself when the reality dawned on her she burst into tears.

"It's a dream come true, I can't believe it really," she said on gaining her Olympic slot after pulling herself together.

"It's years and years of hard work just to get there, now I'm going to be an Olympian. I want to thank everyone for the prayers."

Her father Peter - who is her coach and manager - said it was the fulfillment of a dream that had not always been a smooth one but now sees her needing to win just one bout at the Games to be assured of a medal.

"It's been a hard journey for her, for the two of us to get there. You can't explain, you can't put it into words how it felt."

However, critics are simply not convinced that it will act as a launching pad for the sport in general -- in other words, the oxygen of publicity every four years will not spark a lucrative and popular professional circuit.

One such sceptic is the legendary promoter Bob Arum, who has tried his hand at promoting women's boxing.

"I used to have female bouts on the card, and they weren't greeted by much enthusiasm by the writers. We couldn't sell tickets, because women don't follow women's boxing and men look at it as a diversion."

And Arum doesn't expect Olympic inclusion to change that.

"I really don't think so," he said, noting that since the US "Dream Team" of NBA stars played in the Barcelona Games, the NBA's global popularity is "off the charts" but "the WNBA is struggling."

"Unless the sport is going to be supported by women, it has no chance," he said. "Men usually want to see men compete -- tennis may be an exception."

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