Women's boxing punch way to Olympics history

Women's boxing is preparing to punch its way into the history books when the world championships, doubling as the sport's first ever Olympic qualifying event, take to the ring in China this week.

The AIBA World Women's Championships will see medal-hungry boxers compete to secure one of 24 berths in the three London 2012 weight categories: 48-51 kg flyweight, 57-60 kg lightweight, and 69-75 kg middleweight.

Ireland's reigning world champion lightweight and gold medal hope Katie Taylor will be in search of her fourth consecutive world title at the Olympic Stadium in Qinhuangdao, on China's east coast.

But attention will also focus on Afghanistan's Sadaf Rahimi, a 17-year-old flyweight who trains at the Kabul stadium where the Taliban, which banned women from playing all sports, staged public executions.

Rahimi, who was inspired to box after meeting Muhammad Ali's daughter, Laila, has recently been honing her combinations and footwork in Britain as she bids for one of the eight spots available in her category.

Hosts China are also fielding one of the strongest teams, including 51kg flyweight world champion Ren Cancan and Yang Yanzi, the 57kg lightweight silver-medallist at the last edition in 2010.

World number three 75kg fighter Li Jinzi will be competing for a middleweight Olympic place.

Meanwhile the hopes of India lie in the quick and powerful hands of "Magnificent Mary" Kom, a five-time world champion and the mother of twin boys who is tipped to secure flyweight qualification in Qinhuangdao.

Olympics hosts Britain will be hoping current world number two flyweight Nicola Adams will secure her right to challenge for gold in front of her home crowd.

And North Korea's leading lightweight Yun Kum Ju, currently second in the AIBA world rankings, will also vie for a place in the British capital.

In Qinhuangdao, fighters aged 17 to 34 will compete in 10 weight categories. The general weigh-in and official draw is on Friday and preliminary bouts start on Saturday.

Fast-growing women's boxing will debut as a full Olympic sport in July. A demonstration bout was first recorded at the 1902 Athens Games but for much of the last century, it was banned by many governments.

The Swedish Amateur Boxing Association sanctioned competitive heats in 1988, followed by Britain in 1997. In 2004, Clint Eastwood's Oscar-winning film "Million Dollar Baby" helped bring the sport to a mass audience.

Several organisations now represent the women's discipline at both professional and amateur level and fights are staged in more than 100 countries worldwide.

The world championships in China are the seventh edition since AIBA (International Amateur Boxing Association) debuted the event in the United States in 2001. In 2009, the International Olympic Committee approved the discipline's inclusion in this year's Games.

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