'Remove all doubt. Believe in yourself': Claressa Shields reflects on her Olympic journey

A young girl from Flint, Michigan won gold at the London Olympics 2012, the first Games to give medals to women's boxing. Claressa Shields won an Olympic gold medal in 2016, not only did she win, but she also won another one. Shields, the first undisputed champion of boxing in both divisions, reflects on her international experiences to ESPN's Eric Woodyard as the Tokyo Olympics reach the medal rounds for boxing. Editor's Note: This article has been edited to be more concise and clear. I don't like losing. This feeling was my first as an amateur three months before I made my Olympic debut. It was against Savannah Marshall from England at the 2012 women’s world championships. It was a terrible experience that I resolved to never repeat. Because of the changes in my environment, I had a chip on mine for three months. People believed in me, believing I could win the gold medal, and then boom, my quarterfinal fight at world championships was over. Because I was ranked higher than other girls in my contingent, I was still eligible for the Olympics. There were many believers and then there were doubters. That dream never went away. But there was so much doubt about my ability to become the first Olympic gold medalist in women's boxing at 160 [pounds]. Results I vividly remember talking to Jason Crutchfield, my childhood trainer from Flint, before I boarded the plane for the Olympics. He was very supportive and encouraging. I remember speaking to him the night prior and he said, "You're going to do it." Be confident. Ress, get rid of all doubt. I was so moved by the words he spoke to me. I was only listening to him tell me that I was the best, and I found myself crying as I walked away from him. He didn't make me cry, but I did when I left. All I could think of was "Remove all doubt." Believe in yourself. You have this." Claressa Shields soared to the top of the news after she won her first Olympic gold medal in 2012. AP Photo/Rick Osentoski As I was getting on the plane, there was so much to see that I felt as though they were doubting me. So I just kept my headphones on. Meek Mill was playing and Nicki Minaj was singing. Her "Pink" album was just out. I was listening to Nicki Minaj and Meek Mill, so I was singing "Last Chance" and "Big Dreams", both by Meek. I had these two songs on replay throughout the 12-hour journey to London. Did you ever feel like you were at home when you went somewhere? It was how I felt. It was impossible to stop me. My mental state was unaffected by anything. It felt like I was ready to conquer everything. You find yourself frightened by all the great athletes you see while attending the opening ceremonies. You'll see Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Durant, LeBron Jam, Serena Williams, Allyson Feliz, and many other great athletes. You may think you are crazy but then you realize that they're here for exactly the same reason as you are, so you can be just as great as them. Carmelo Anthony knew my last and first names, but Kevin Durant knew mine, so I was like, "Yo, what's the point?" This is insane. This is crazy. It's not weird for me to feel this way. When I received my first draw, it was clear that I was up against Anna Laurell (6 feet tall). Everyone kept reminding me of how I had to fight tall fighters. I was aware of her game plan and my goal was to disrupt it. I moved to the inside and landed the tough shots. I used my jab and my head movement to win 18-14. This was my toughest fight at the Olympics. As I was getting ready to go for my gold-medal match I noticed a shift in the dynamics around me. People who had doubts about me began to believe in me. The fake vibes were horrible to me. It was evident in the faces of my Olympic teammates, coaches and even people from home. These days, people come up to me and tell me that they lost $100 betting on Russia to defeat them. As I was getting ready to go for the gold-medal match, I felt the vibes. As I was walking towards the ring to fight my last Olympic bout, I thought, "If I get silver, maybe I won't have as many fakers, doubters, and all that weird stuff around that I don't want." If you win gold, all these people will be in your life. All these new cousins, all this new stuff." Because I was the one who had the power, I had to decide whether I wanted to get silver or gold. Just before I entered the ring, I took in a deep breath. I will get the gold medal. However, my life may change after that, I will accept it and try to deal with it as best I can. Because I am afraid of the fake people who will follow, there is no way that I am going to miss this chance. So I made the decision to become an Olympic champion. Claressa Shields, a former Olympian, turned pro and is the current undisputed champion of two divisions in the four-belt era. AP Photo/Julio Cortez The first time I felt inner happiness was when I won gold. I could not take that happiness away from anyone. I felt like I wasn't wasting my time. I did everything right and trained the way I needed to. To be an Olympic gold medalist, I gave everything and did everything right. When I said I did everything right, it was because I was praying every single day. I was reading my Bible. I didn't mistreat anyone. I ran. I worked hard. God was my priority and I am reaping the rewards. It felt that way. When they wrapped the gold medal around me, I felt relief. It had been 13 years since I started waiting for this day. It was finally what I wanted, to become the first woman to win the Olympic gold medal at the 165-pound weight division. And it was only 17 years ago. When I was 17 years old, I didn't have any to deal with. Back then, I was a different person. I was stronger-headed, and didn't really understand social media at all. I don't think I even knew that I was verified via social media until I was 18-19 years old. I didn't really understand it or care about it. It was only when I was 20-21 that I started to deal with the mental side of it. This led me into the second Olympics, where it is like I need my peace and mind. I need breaks from the internet. I need to take a break from my business. I need to be away from my family. I need to be alone and do what makes me happy. It can be difficult to do this when everyone is relying on and dependent on you as an athlete. I remember someone telling me that no matter what the problems are at home with your family, friends, or in a relationship they will be there when you leave the Olympics. They don't need to be dealt with right away, but you can trust that they will eventually be resolved. I chose to deal later with everything. You can think of it as "Look, right now I'll put in all my hard work to have a great Olympics, have great fighting, and just enjoy the moment because you have to go back to normal life after that and you won't get to meet Carmelo Anthony or Kevin Durant when your go home." It was a moment I would rather just enjoy. It was a long process of praying and much cutting off my phone and giving it to someone. Kay Koroma, Olympic coach, took my phone many times. It was one of his best gifts because it removed all distractions. This helps you to really concentrate on what is important. I am just grateful Coach Kay was there for me to help me remember the important things. It was great to have a support person. My mind was stronger before my 2016 Olympics appearance. We had hired a new coach, Billy Walsh, who is still part of the team. He said to me his first time meeting me that it would be harder to win the Olympic gold medal. I confirmed it. "Whoa. "Whoa. It was hard work and dedication that I had put into it. God sent me different messages and feelings so that you would know it's your turn. It was clear that I would win the second Olympics. During those four years, I improved my game tremendously. I learned, studied and improved every day. I was able to throw my right hand, jab and uppercut in a total of 10 different ways. I was able to master my boxing skills to be able to win any fight I needed. There was only one style. But when you are an Olympic champion you have to be able to fight in multiple styles. Although no one had ever seen my fighting styles, I knew that I had the style to win in 2016. It's difficult to believe that something can't be done. It was my goal to make impossible things possible. I made it clear that I would win every fight, and that there was no way these girls could stop me. I mean, I ran through everyone like a truck. It was amazing. It was wonderful to be on the world stage and inspire young girls. My goal was to have people see me box in 2012, so they wouldn't cancel women’s boxing at the Olympics in 2016. Then I was like, "If I do it again," they won't cancel women's boxing in 2020. I wanted to show them how women boxed, and they didn't know it. I was awarded the Most Outstanding Boxer award at the 2016 Olympics. They were shocked to learn that women's boxing was not considered a top priority, but Claressa Shields is a great example of this. I wanted to prove that anyone can accomplish anything if they put their mind to it, whether you are a woman or a man. I wanted to create a platform for women. The current blueprint states that an amateur fighter can qualify for the Olympics. No matter what happens, you can now turn pro with your Olympic pedigree. You can become a world champion. There wasn't initially a blueprint for women boxing. I have now been able create the blueprint, and it is great to be a role-model. This is the big stage for everyone who fights. You can leave all doubt behind and either go big or stay at home. Give your best and eliminate all doubt when you get out there. No matter how much you are winning or losing, one punch can make all the difference. Have fun and go out and do what you want. Be aware that this is more for you than for anyone else.


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